Scientists have found plastic in every single animal they studied in the deepest point in the ocean.
Most people are aware of the devastating impact plastic has on the ocean, with eight million metric tonnes dumped in the sea each year.
But scientists wanted to discover just how far-reaching the spread of plastic in the sea is, so they sent vehicles to the deepest, darkest point – the Mariana Trench.
Machines captured amphipods – tiny crustaceans which search the seabed for nutrients – to see if there was any evidence of plastic in their stomachs.
Shockingly, every single amphipod tested in the Mariana Trench had at least one plastic fibre in their digestive systems.
The research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, tested six trenches in total, and of all of the creatures tested 72% contained plastic particles.
Even for these elusive creatures, plastic causes potentially huge problems. It is not digestible so cannot pass through their digestive systems, leading animals to have clogged up bodies – and some mistakenly think they are full and starve to death.
Amphipods range between one and 340 millimetres in size, so for them swallowing these tiny fibres is the equivalent of swallowing a metre of plastic rope, according to researchers.
Alan Jamieson, the lead researcher, told the Atlantic: “What you put in the trench stays in the trench. [The plastic problem] is only going to get worse. Anything going in there isn’t coming back.”
Plastic also attracts toxic chemicals, and much of the plastic we have dumped in the ocean has dissolved into the sea.
Estimates suggest there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the oceans already.
For larger animals, swallowing plastic can be fatal, and its increase in the ocean is driving many species to extinction.
Turtles, which often confuse plastic bags for jellyfish, are 20% more likely to die after consuming a single piece of plastic, while many beached whales wash up on shore and are found with stomachs crammed full of plastic.
But the latest research suggest the impact of plastic goes far beyond what’s washing up on our beaches.
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