A study by the United Kingdom's Newcastle University has revealed details about the presence of man-made fibers and plastics inside stomachs of living animals from six of the deepest places on earth.
The research, led by Alan Jamieson, has uncovered evidence that not only have plastics now reached the deepest chasms of our oceans, but they are being ingested by the animals that live there.
The team revealed its findings Nov. 15 as part of Sky Ocean Rescue, a campaign to raise awareness of how plastics and pollution are affecting the seas.
The research tested samples of crustaceans found in the ultra-deep trenches that span the entire Pacific Ocean: the Mariana, Japan, Izu-Bonin, Peru-Chile, New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches.
The areas range from 7 to 10 kilometers deep, with as the deepest point, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, at nearly 10.9 kilometers deep.
Using facilities at Newcastle University and Shimadzu UK Ltd. in Milton Keynes, England, the team examined 90 individual animals and found ingestion of plastic ranged from 50 percent in the New Hebrides Trench to 100 percent at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
The fragments identified include semi-synthetic cellulosic fibres, such as Rayon, Lyocell and Ramie — which are all microfibers used in products such as textiles — to nylon, polyethylene, or unidentified polyvinyls closely resembling polyvinyl alcohol or polyvinylchloride - PVA and PVC.
Although the majority of marine litter can be observed floating on the surface, the degradation and fragmentation of plastics will ultimately result in their sinking to the underlying deep-sea habitats, where opportunities for dispersal become ever more limited, the study said.
“Deep-sea organisms are dependent on food raining down from the surface,” Jamieson said, “which in turn brings any adverse components, such as plastic and pollutants with it.
These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, Jamieson said, adding that it was highly unlikely that there was any marine ecosystem left which was not impacted by anthropogenic debris.