A newly-published study in Scientific Reports shows that plastic debris less than 5 millimeters across, known as microplastic, is common from the surface to the seafloor. It may also be entering marine food webs, both at the surface and in the deep. Finally, the study suggests that most of this microplastic is coming from consumer products.
This is the first study to look systematically at microplastic, with repeated sampling at the same locations and a range of depths, from just beneath the ocean surface to depths of 1,000 meters.
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The study in California's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary also found that small ocean animals are consuming microplastic, which introduces the particles into food webs from near-surface waters down to the deep seafloor.
"Our findings buttress a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the waters and animals of the deep sea, Earth's largest habitat, as the biggest repository of small plastic debris," said Anela Choy, the lead author of the paper.
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"Our study demonstrates a link between microplastics distributed across the water column and entry of this foreign material into marine food webs by important marine animals, such as pelagic crabs and giant larvaceans."
The groundbreaking research was a joint effort by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Choy conducted the research while a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI. She is currently an assistant professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
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Kakani Katija, an MBARI engineer on the team, added, "This research shows how we can leverage scientific, engineering and conservation expertise to develop new technology that provides powerful insights into how humans are impacting the ocean."
Using MBARI's underwater robots, equipped with sampling devices designed specifically for this project, the researchers filtered plastic particles out of seawater on multiple occasions at two different locations and at...
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