Humanity’s dependency on plastic has reached surprising and shocking depths. A new study, analysing 30 years of data on human waste found in the deepest parts of the ocean, has shown that around 3,500 pieces of plastic and other debris are floating in these fragile and isolated ecosystems.
Plastic pollution appears to be one of the most serious threats to our oceans’ ecosystems. Scientists and world leaders now recognise the need for urgent management measures to ensure the durability of marine ecosystems in the future. Previous studies have reported a build up of plastic debris on the coasts, while other observations have revealed an accumulation of plastic debris in surface waters further offshore. But what about the deep seas?
Single use plastic is now present in the deepest ocean trench in the world: the Mariana Trench, measuring 10,898 meters deep. This is what was revealed by a study called “Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris”, led by the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre. According to the study, over half of the debris in areas more than 6,000 meters deep was made of plastic, the vast majority of which was from single use products.
The database archives photographs and videos of debris collected since 1983 by submarines and remote controlled vehicles. The study specifies that “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 plastic bag in the world (seen above) was observed 20 years ago, on the 20th May 1998. Over the course of the following decades, its frayed shape has probably been broken down into innumerable resistant microplastics now floating on the surface of the ocean. Remember that a South Pacific expedition a few weeks ago revealed a new concentrated mass of microscopic plastic waste, four times the size of France.