In the Challenger Deep, every single animal examined by researchers had plastic in its gut.
Not even the deepest recesses of the oceans have been immune from the scourge of plastic waste. That much we’ve known. What we also know now is that creatures living in the deep, in waters at 7,000 meters or more from the surface, are being impacted by plastic pollution.
To wit: scientists have discovered plastic waste in the guts of scuttling creatures retrieved from six of the deepest places on Earth, including the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which is almost 11,000m from the surface.
Researchers from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom dispatched submersibles to the bottom of the sea in six hadopelagic trenches in waters around the planet from Japan to Peru-Chile to New Hebrides. The submersibles collected amphipods from the sites and brought them to the surface. It was found that of 90 small creatures thus collected as many as 72% had plastic in their guts.
Not only that, but animals at greater depths were more likely to have ingested plastic waste. In the Challenger Deep, the deepest place in the Earth’s oceans, every single animal examined had plastic in its gut. This means, the scientists conclude, that it is highly likely “there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution.”
Ecosystems in the depths of the oceans, being so inaccessible to us, remain little understood. Scientists aren’t sure what happens to amphipods that mistakenly ingest bits of plastic that sink to the bottom. They speculate that many of the creatures could suffer from blockages in their digestive tracks, just as animals on the surface often do. It’s also possible these marine creatures could lose some of their buoyancy as they might end up being weighted down by all the plastic in their guts, which would make them more vulnerable to predation.
Yet whatever the effects, it’s not as if we could do much about it. Cleaning up plastic waste in the depths of the oceans would be a Herculean undertaking, not least because much of it consists of microplastics and other minute plastic fragments that would be hard to detect, much less retrieve.