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Deep sea trash - A growing problem that's being neglected

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First Posted: Jun 06, 2013 10:38 AM EDT
A young rockfish hides out in a discarded shoe

A young rockfish hides out in a discarded shoe Credit:©2010 MBARI

A new study, conducted by scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) reveals how much of the trash discarded, ends up on the sea floors, particularly on that of Monterey Canyon.

Huge amounts of discarded trash, including fishing debris, aluminum cans, plastic bags and other wastes don't just clutter the beaches now; they also keep on piling up on the sea floors.

This trash accumulation under the water could pose a serious problem in the future, endangering the nation's aquatic flora and fauna, and thereby making a huge impact on the aquatic and fisheries industries.

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These wastes may slowly decompose, release toxic substances into the water, and impact the aquatic ecosystem to an extent that is unimaginable.

The scientists have reported deep sea debris to extend to around 13,000 feet, based on over two decades of surveys, video footages and other interventions.

After 1,500 observations of deep sea debris, the researchers finally realized that around one-third of the total amount of debris present, were made up of plastic, and more than half of these were plastic bags. In Monterey Bay alone, around 1,150 discarded wastes were seen piled up on the sea floor.

Following the plastic objects, the second most commonly noted debris included aluminum and steel tins and cans.

"I was surprised that we saw so much trash in deeper water. We don't usually think of our daily activities as affecting life two miles deep in the ocean. I'm sure that there's a lot more debris in the canyon that we're not seeing. A lot of it gets buried by underwater landslides and sediment movement. Some of it may also be carried into deeper water, farther down the canyon," Kyra Schlining, lead author of the study, explained.

Also, these debris were not randomly distributed over the entire sea floor, but were infact, more piled up toward the rocky slopes, steep areas and deeper parts of the sea, the researchers found.

"The most frustrating thing for me is that most of the material we saw -- glass, metal, paper, plastic -- could be recycled," Schlining said.

Concluding their article, Schlining and her colleagues wrote "Ultimately, preventing the introduction of litter into the marine environment through increased public awareness remains the most efficient and cost-effective solution to this dilemma."

 

 

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