Plastic pollution is a global crisis that affects just about every ecosystem on Earth: from the Arctic to the deepest depths of the ocean. As National Geographic recently reported as part of their “Planet or Plastic” series, “a British research team captured amphipods, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that scavenge on the seabed, from six of the world’s deepest ocean trenches and took them back to their lab. There, they discovered that more than 80 percent of the amphipods had plastic fibers and particles in their digestive systems, known as the hindgut. The deeper the trench, the more fibers they found. In the Mariana Trench, the deepest at more than seven miles beneath the waves in the western Pacific, the scientists found fibers in 100 percent of the samples–in every amphipod collected.”
- The world produces an estimated 10 tons of plastic a second, and between 5 million and 14 million tons sweep into the oceans every year.
- Some of that debris washes up on beaches, even on the world’s most isolated islands. About 5 trillion pieces currently float in surface waters, mostly in the form of tiny, easy-to-swallow fragments that have ended up in the gut of albatrosses, sea turtles, plankton, fish, and whales.
- But those pieces also sink, snowing into the deep sea and upon the amphipods that live there.
Why This Matters: Since plastic can take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to decompose, it continues to break down into smaller fragments in the world’s oceans. These microplastics can contain chemical additives and contaminants that can be harmful at extremely low concentrations for small marine creatures. Additionally, these small animals are at the base of the marine food web so these toxins are eventually ingested by larger species and can even make their way into human diets when we consume seafood. While there’s still a knowledge gap about the exact effects plastics have on marine creatures (though evidence suggests they pose a serious risk), we have to start forging a pathway to limit the creation of new plastic and to hold manufacturers of plastic items accountable for the recycling and clean up of the items they sell.