Trash In The Deep Sea


shoe-fish-350Out of sight out of mind is the typical culture with regard to the deep seas.  How can something so far away and so isolated be impacted by humans?  New work out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute demonstrates the futility in such thinking.

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.  Metal objects were the second most common type of debris seen in this study. About two thirds of these objects were aluminum, steel, or tin cans. Other common debris included rope, fishing equipment, glass bottles, paper, and cloth items. The researchers found that trash was not randomly distributed on the seafloor. Instead, it collected on steep, rocky slopes, such as the edges of Monterey Canyon, as well as in a few spots in the canyon axis. The researchers speculate that debris accumulates where ocean currents flow past rocky outcrops or other obstacles….The researchers also discovered that debris was more common in the deeper parts of the canyon, below 2,000 meters (6,500 feet).

Distribution of marine debris observed in Monterey Bay (N=1,149). MBARI ROV surveys over the 22-year study period are shown in red. The relative abundance of trash was normalized by the amount of time spent searching the seafloor; the largest circles depict areas of trash accumulation which tend to occur on the outside walls of canyon meanders where high-energy water flow and erosion occur. The main study grid (upper inset) extended to the abyssal plain and included Davidson Seamount, about 130 km to the southwest. [COLOR].

Distribution of marine debris observed in Monterey Bay (N=1,149). MBARI ROV surveys over the 22-year study period are shown in red. The largest circles depict areas of trash accumulation which tend to occur on the outside walls of canyon meanders where high-energy water flow and erosion occur.

Schlining, K., von Thun, S., Kuhnz, L., Schlining, B., Lundsten, L., Jacobsen Stout, N., Chaney, L., Connor, J., Debris in the deep: Using a 22-year video annotation database to survey marine litter in Monterey Canyon, Central California, USADeep-Sea Research I, (in press) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr.2013.05.006

Dr. M (1621 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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3 comments on “Trash In The Deep Sea
  1. That’s terrible, but sadly not unexpected. And people just don’t care – try and make the issues public on facebook or something similar and the people who are already mildly interested will look and maybe engage in a bit of slacktivism (clicking ‘like’ or ‘share’ is about as far as it goes for most people), everyone else will just scroll on past. We live in an age where people seem to think the problems are too big, there’s nothing they can do, or that it just somehow isn’t ever going to effect them, so why bother? Apathy is killing the world. The most recent ‘shock’ on Game of Thrones is more important to people today than where their food comes from and who’s being oppressed and exploited in providing it. I don’t know what we can do to get people to engage, other than to get this kind of factual information into the fiction that people so voraciously consume – Finding Nemo would have been a great place to start with this particular problem but they glossed over the issues – here’s hoping they do something meaningful with the sequel.

  2. Pingback: Study finds garbage littering Monterey Bay – Santa Cruz Sentinel | Internet News 247

  3. Pingback: Deep-Sea Dump: ROVs Expose Trashed Ocean Floor – Wired

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