Scientists using underwater robots in the waters off California’s central coast found that plastic debris has infiltrated the deep ocean, with evidence of microscopic plastic particles extending from the surface all the way to the seafloor. “It’s a longstanding question: How much plastic is in the ocean? ” said Anela Choy, an assistant professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and lead author of the new study. “That question has mostly been answered from looking at the best available data at the surface of the ocean, but we know the ocean is a very large three-dimensional space, so we have to account for the plastic below the surface.
Woglom added that previous research has shown ocean plastic to be a worldwide problem, but by revealing the true extent of the plastic pollution, the new research could guide more effective cleanup programs. “There are efforts to try to skim plastic off the first couple of meters of the ocean’s surface, but this study shows that it’s really throughout the water column and in deeper waters,” she said. “So this raises questions about if we’ll be able to reach a significant portion of the plastic.
The scientists used underwater robots to collect samples at various ocean depths. “We weren’t necessarily surprised to find plastic in the deep sea, but what was surprising was that the highest concentrations were not at the surface and not at the deepest depths that we sampled, but somewhere in the middle,” she said, adding that the plastic particles were also found in crabs, tadpole-like larvaceans and other marine animals that live at those depths.
Choy said the study, which was conducted at two locations within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, could account for what’s known as the “missing plastic in the ocean. ” The term refers to the significant discrepancy that researchers have found between the total amount of plastic that has been produced and the amount of plastic that has been seen in the environment.