There’s Currently 14 Million Metric Tons Of Microplastics Sitting On Ocean Floor
In recent years we’ve been made more aware of how harmful microplastics are in the oceans and to its wildlife, but new studies suggest the problem beneath the surface is far worse.
In 2020, people are more in-the-know when it comes to ocean pollution than ever before, especially when it comes to microplastics and non-biodegradables. While plastic waste has been a grave issue for some time, as it litters our oceans, beaches, and land, the affect it’s having underneath the visible surface, specifically at the bottom of the vastness of the our seas, has been revealed in a new study.
Findings from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, published in the Frontiers in Marine Science journal this week, shed light on the true extent of the damage, revealing 14 million metric tonnes of microplastics are covering areas of the ocean floor.
To put that into perspective, it’s around 35 times the amount of visible plastics that are floating around the world at sea level.
Microplastics are much smaller, ground-down forms of plastic deriving from larger, more solid plastics such as bags and bottles that are either discarded into waters or somehow find their way to the ocean. They’re less that five millimetres in length and are virtually undetectable to the eye in small quantities.
The team used a robotic submarine to collect deep-sea sediment samples some 3,000 metres (9,800 feet) below the sea level of Great Australian Bight, off the coast of Southern Australia, across six different sites, CNN reports.
51 samples were collected in total, where it was discovered that each contained 1.26 pieces of microplastics per gram of sediment, which is far worse than any study had previously suggested – in fact, it was an alarming 25 times more.
‘Even the deep ocean is susceptible to the plastic pollution problem,’ said Justine Barrett of CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere, who spearheaded the study. ‘Plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean deteriorates and breaks down, ending up as microplastics.’ And she confirmed that ‘results show microplastics are indeed sinking to the ocean floor.’
Plastic has been recognised as one of the biggest environmental dangers, with scientists labelling it ‘one of this generation’s key environmental challenges,’ yet people still don’t appear to acknowledge the potentially irreversible devastation the levels of pollution will cause to future generations.
Studies have suggested that even if humanity reduces its plastic use and begins a conscious clean up effort now, there will still be around 710 million metric tonnes of plastic pollution by 2040.
The study’s Principal Research Scientist and co-author, Dr. Denise Hardesty, was dismayed to learn what they did, saying she was ‘surprised to observe high microplastic loads in such a remote location.’
‘Our research found that the deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,’ Hardesty stated. ‘By identifying where and how much microplastic there is, we get a better picture of the extent of the problem.’
Sadly, these findings are merely a fraction of what’s polluting the planet overall, as an estimated 150 million metric tonnes are already floating in our oceans and some eight million is dumped into water every single year, meaning the concentration of microplastics and plastic waste in general will continue to rise exponentially if we do not do something quick.
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