A new study on ocean floor garbage proves that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. While the words “ocean pollution” normally trigger photos of turtles stuck in plastic rings and birds being choked by plastic bags, garbage is also littered across the ocean floor.
Researchers with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have been studying the ocean floor from California to Canada and off the coast of Hawaii for 22 years.
During that time, researchers have found that the majority of garbage littering our oceans is recyclable. Scientists at MBARI have cataloged more than 1,500 pieces of debris in their area.
But after being sparked by a recent study on ocean trash off of the Southern California coast, the scientists decided to analyze their database to see what kind of trash they have seen in the ocean.
Their results, published on May 28 in the journal Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, showed that the most common type of ocean floor trash is plastic. Susan von Thun, a co-author of the study, stated:
“Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t so surprised. I’ve seen plenty of trash as I’ve been annotating video … It’s completely changing the natural environment, in a way that we don’t know what it’s going to do.”
Next to plastic bottles, the second biggest source of ocean trash in that area was metal, including soda and food cans. Other common debris types included rope and fishing equipment, glass bottles, cardboard, wood, and clothing. The majority of the trash found could easily have been recycled.
Von Thun added of the discovery, “The main way to combat this problem is to prevent all this stuff from getting into the ocean to begin with. We really have to properly dispose of items, reduce our use of single-use items and recycle.”
And the arrival of this trash is a huge change for sea life on the ocean floor, which is used to soft mud. Hard surfaces are rare and sea creatures have colonized the trash they found. One case is with a shipping container that fell overboard into Monterey Canyon in 2004. MBARI is documenting the effects the container is having on the environment below the sea surface.
Because the majority of the ocean pollution came from recyclable materials, von Thun and her colleagues hope their study will spur more people to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Are you surprised to learn how much of our trash goes into the ocean? Will you work to recycle more after learning about it?
[Image via ShutterStock]