Monterey Bay Is a Natural Wonder—Poisoned With Microplastic

WIRED | 6/6/2019 | Matt Simon
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California’s Monterey Bay is one of the more pure, more dynamic coastal ecosystems on Earth. Otters—once hunted nearly to extinction—float among towering kelp forests, which themselves have rebounded thanks to the booming otter population’s appetite for kelp-loving sea urchins. Great whites visit from time to time, as do all manner of whales and dolphins. All told, it’s one of the greatest success stories in the history of oceanic conservation.

Yet it’s poisoned with a menace no amount of conservation can stop: microplastic. Today in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers present a torrent of horrifying findings about just how bad the plastic problem has become. For one, microplastic is swirling in Monterey Bay’s water column at every depth they sampled, sometimes in concentrations greater than at the surface of the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Two, those plastics are coming from land, not local fishing nets, and are weathered, suggesting they’ve been floating around for a long while. And three, every animal the researchers found—some that make up the base of the food web in the bay—were loaded with microplastic.

Samples - Researchers - ROVs - Samplers - Volumes

To get their samples, the researchers used ROVs outfitted with specialized samplers, which pumped large volumes of seawater through a mesh filter. Plastics are so ubiquitous in human inventions, however, that they had to make sure the ROV itself didn’t taint their samples.

Matt Simon covers cannabis, robots, and climate science for WIRED.

Researchers - Amount - Surface - Feet - Feet

The researchers found the amount of microplastic captured at the surface is about the same as it is down at 3,200 feet. But between 650 and 2,000 feet, the counts skyrocket.

Scientists have suspected that ocean plastics aren’t necessarily concentrated at the surface, contrary to what you’d assume given the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is one big reason why they’ve scoffed at the idea of the Ocean Cleanup project, which is...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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