In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers discovered significant traces of microplastics from the surface of the sea and in the deep and that the contamination is entering the animals’ food webs as well. Interestingly, the plastics were actually found to be mostly from consumer products than fishing gear.
Plastics In The Ocean
Nowadays, when people talk about water pollution, one of the first things that come to mind is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, the problem with plastics in our oceans is not just limited to what we can see, as even below the surface, ocean waters are polluted with microplastics that are already affecting marine creatures’ food web.
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute used specialized equipment to see just how humans are impacting the oceans and found that the problem with plastics may be deeper than the massive garbage patch between Hawaii and California.
Microplastics From Ocean Surface To Ocean Floor
With their specialized underwater robots, researchers filtered plastic samples multiple times from various depths of water in Monterey Bay. The samples were taken at various depths, from 5 to 1,000 meters, with most of the samples being taken from the deep waters of Monterey Canyon.
What they found was that the concentration of microplastics in waters near the surface actually match the concentration in the deepest waters. What’s more, the concentrations are about four times greater in the mid-water range of 200 to 600 meters below the surface.
Researchers also had a look at microplastic concentrations in two types of marine creatures that filter-feed water and found traces of microplastics in all of the specimen. This shows that microplastics are already being inadvertently consumed by marine creatures, affecting the food web and the ecosystem itself.
Plastic From Consumer Products
Interestingly, researchers found that a majority of the plastics they recovered were actually from consumer products such as single-use to-go containers and beverage bottles. By comparison, despite Monterey Bay being home to commercial fishing, researchers actually found very few particles from fishing gear.
What’s more, the microplastics they examined were already highly weathered, which means that they might have been in the water for years or months and that at least some of the debris were brought to the area by the ocean current.
“The ubiquitous presence of plastic pollution throughout the water column points to source reduction — making and using less plastic in the first place — as one of the most effective means of solving this issue,” said study coauthor Kyle Van Houtan. He further notes that even if it may be impossible to remove all the microplastics from the water, we can still reduce the amount of plastic entering our oceans.
The study is published in Scientific Reports.