Trashing the Earth reaches new depths …of nearly 15,000 feet

There is little argument against the notion that we have littered much of the globe:

beach-trash

Marine litter, in particular, has garnered quite a bit of attention due to the problems that things like plastic bags and ghost nets cause for some of our “sexy” charismatic megafauna (such as marine turtles).  A new study published in PLOS ONE sheds light on just how far our litter has spread.  Data from deep sea trawling and imaging surveys spanning about 12 years revealed marine litter in each of the 32 sampled sites.  These sites ranged from 35m to a whopping 4500m (14,764 feet) in depth.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 6.17.27 PM
-Map from Pham et al. (2014) shows all sites that were sampled.

They found that plastic bags, glass bottles, and discarded fishing gear comprised the majority of the litter and they report higher litter densities for the seabed than have been previously reported for the sea surface.  Debris was found over 1000 km from land and as previously stated, 4500m deep!

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 6.18.45 PM
-Some photos of the marine litter seen from the imaging surveys.  The SHALLOWEST of all of these photos was at 896m (nearly 3000 feet).


There is a definite knowledge gap with respect to the quantities of marine litter in out oceans.  This study opens the door for further work to be done.  Many people live with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, so the bottom of the ocean if far from the forefront of their thoughts.  We, as the dominant race of this planet (and the reason for this trash pileup), can not turn a blind eye to what is happening.  We must meet this problem head on and stop the spread of trash.  There is no realistic way to clean the sea floor when it it so deep, so we must simply stop adding to it!

The fact that non-fishing gear plastic made up a large proportion of the trash suggests that it came from the land/coastal areas and gradually made it’s way to the bottom.  This should reaffirm the fact that we much continue to reduce our use of plastics (especially bags!).  As easy way to help this is to bring your own bags when you go shopping.

High amounts of derelict fishing gear is another concern altogether.  Fishermen must take great care to not discard things like nets and lines.  They do nothing but wreak havoc when left to sink to the bottom:
olive-ridley-caught-in-ghost-net-ian-bell-2004-web-jpg

Hopefully this study will open up funding opportunities to survey more of the seafloor so we can gain a better idea of marine litter levels.  One thing is for sure, we must get better and stop hurting our oceans (and our planet in general).   This should open some eyes and help people realize the depths (literally) that our trash is spreading to.  Helping can start on a small scale, in your own home, and can grow from there.

Spread the word!
Let’s reverse the trend, and secure a positive future!

Thanks for reading!
Check out my website: http://mdnichol.wix.com/mnicholsondiscover
Follow me on Twitter: @sharkynichol

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About mdnichol87

Marine Biologist studying towards a Master's in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter.
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