A discarded tire sits on a ledge 868 meters (2,850 feet) below the ocean surface in Monterey Canyon. Image: ©2009 MBARI
In total, the researchers counted over 1,500 observations of deep-sea debris, at dive sites from Vancouver Island to the Gulf of California, and as far west as the Hawaiian Islands. In the recent paper, the researchers focused on seafloor debris in and around Monterey Bay—an area in which MBARI conducts over 200 research dives a year. In this region alone, the researchers noted over 1,150 pieces of debris on the seafloor.The largest proportion of the debris—about one third of the total—consisted of objects made of plastic. Of these objects, more than half were plastic bags. Plastic bags are potentially dangerous to marine life because they can smother attached organisms or choke animals that consume them.
To make matters worse, the impacts of deep-sea trash may last for years. Near-freezing water, lack of sunlight, and low oxygen concentrations discourage the growth of bacteria and other organisms that can break down debris. Under these conditions, a plastic bag or soda can might persist for decades.MBARI researchers hope to do additional research to understand the long-term biological impacts of trash in the deep sea. Working with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, they are currently finishing up a detailed study of the effects of a particularly large piece of marine debris—a shipping container that fell off a ship in 2004.
Kim Fulton-Bennett | EurekAlert!
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