A plastic bag is wrapped around a deep-sea coral. A new study, 'Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris', reveals human activities are affecting the deepest part of the ocean, more than 1000km from the mainland. Photo: Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology / JAMSTEC E-library of Deep-Sea Images / UNEP

18 April 2018 (UNEP) – A new article, Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris, reveals human activities are affecting the deepest part of the ocean, more than 1000km from the mainland.

Plastic pollution is emerging as one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems. World leaders, scientists and communities recognise the urgent need for action, but the impacts of plastic pollution are not well understood.

To raise awareness of the far-reaching effects of plastic pollution, ocean scientists used information from the Deep-sea Debris Database. The Global Oceanographic Data Centre of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology launched this database for public use in 2017. It contains over 30 years of photos and videos of debris that have been collected by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles.

The data revealed that, from 5010 dives, more than 3000 pieces of man-made debris – including plastic, metal, rubber and fishing gear – were counted. Over a third of debris found was macro-plastic, 89% of which was single-use products. In areas deeper than 6000m, over half of debris was plastic, almost all of which was single-use.

The article also reveals that single-use plastic has reached the world’s deepest ocean trench - a plastic bag was found in the Mariana Trench, 10,898m below the surface. The ubiquitous distribution of single-use plastic, even to the greatest depths of the ocean, reveal a clear link between daily human activities and the remotest of environments.

Once in the deep-sea, plastic can persist for thousands of years. Deep-sea ecosystems are highly endemic and have a very slow growth rate, so the potential threats from plastic pollution are concerning. There is growing concern that deep-sea ecosystems are already being damaged by direct exploitation of both biological and non-biological resources – through deep-sea trawling, mining and infrastructure development, for example. The results of this study show that deep-sea ecosystems are also being affected indirectly by human activities.

Reducing the production of plastic waste seems to be the only solution to the problem of deep-sea plastic pollution. A global monitoring network is needed to share the limited data on deep-sea plastic pollution, and impact assessment surveys should be prioritised for biologically and ecologically important areas with high concentrations of plastic debris, and to use ocean circulation models to identify how plastic is travelling from land to the deep-sea.

Single-use plastic has reached the world's deepest ocean trench


Plastic on the ocean floor of the Mariana Trench. A new study, 'Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris', reveals human activities are affecting the deepest part of the ocean, more than 1000km from the mainland. Photo: Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology / JAMSTEC E-library of Deep-Sea Images / UNEP

ABSTRACT: This study reports plastic debris pollution in the deep-sea based on the information from a recently developed database. The Global Oceanographic Data Center (GODAC) of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) launched the Deep-sea Debris Database for public use in March 2017. The database archives photographs and videos of debris that have been collected since 1983 by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. From the 5010 dives in the database, 3425 man-made debris items were counted. More than 33% of the debris was macro-plastic, of which 89% was single-use products, and these ratios increased to 52% and 92%, respectively, in areas deeper than 6000 m. The deepest record was a plastic bag at 10898 m in the Mariana Trench. Deep-sea organisms were observed in the 17% of plastic debris images, which include entanglement of plastic bags on chemosynthetic cold seep communities. Quantitative density analysis for the subset data in the western North Pacific showed plastic density ranging from 17 to 335 items km−2 at depths of 1092–5977 m. The data show that, in addition to resource exploitation and industrial development, the influence of land-based human activities has reached the deepest parts of the ocean in areas more than 1000 km from the mainland. Establishment of international frameworks on monitoring of deep-sea plastic pollution as an Essential Ocean Variable and a data sharing protocol are the keys to delivering scientific outcomes that are useful for the effective management of plastic pollution and the conservation of deep-sea ecosystems.

Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris

1 comments :

  1. Anonymous said...

    C02 can last 10,000 years in the atmosphere. But this article, like all other articles, does nothing but claim "more study is needed". There never is any meaningful action.

    The answer is obvious - stop using plastic (irregardless of what it "does" to the ocean and fauna). Just like the answer is obvious on C02 - stop producing it (humans that is). Stop burning fossil fuel in all of its forms.

    This will never be done. Plastic and fossil fuels will continue to be produced and burned (they're co-dependent). And the gargantuan human population will continue to over-breed the carrying capacity of the planet. Our self-reinforcing feedbacks ensure our ultimate extinction.

    The reason this will happen is also obvious - we do not actually care about what is happening and never will. But we can employ a lot of people and wring our hands and engage in more "studies" which we all know will never address the root causes or offer any real solutions even if we finally receive clear directions. Nope - we'll need more "studies" first, in a never-ending cycle of the march toward extinction of all things.

    Yeah, I'm pessimistic because the evidence is clear, and so are the solutions that will never be taken. I'm just as pessimistic as to where this all leads and what will happen. My lifespan will be too short to prove that I've been right all along (not that anyone would ever care because they don't), but even this evidence does not matter.

    And dare I say it? No evidence actually matters. It's just going to be ultimately be ignored with no solutions being taken. Half-measures are the human specialty, we're too short-sighted and indifferent.

    We simply do not care enough about outcomes even now, or their causes, or any solutions or even our OWN entire species and our future survival to do what needs to be done. Now, then, or ever.

    It's inherent within us that we have transitory concerns, but long-term demands, which are totally incompatible with biosphere survival.

    Since we cannot control our selves, our greed, our population or how we choose to live and exploit, pollute and destroy the only habitable planet we will ever live on, we are destined by our very nature to destroy the only habitat we have. We have already seen "the best that we can do", which is to document our path of destruction and greed. That's it. There is nothing else.

    The outcome of all this is just as obvious as any solutions that we continue to refuse to consider. I hope you keep it up - despite already knowing what it means.  

 

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