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Study: Deepest parts of the ocean filled with trash

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, May 2, 2014, 8:37 PM -

A twelve-year study by European scientists reveals that trash has inundated the ocean, showing up in even the most remote areas of the sea.

"Litter disposal and accumulation in the marine environment is one of the fastest growing threats for the world's oceans health," the study's authors write.

"With an estimated 6.4 million tonnes of litter entering the oceans each year, the adverse impacts of litter on the marine environment are not negligible. Besides the unquestionable aesthetic issue, litter can be mistaken for food items and be ingested by a wide variety of marine organisms. Entanglement in derelict fishing gear is also a serious threat, particularly for mammals, turtles and birds but also for benthic biota such as corals." 


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Lead author Kerry Howell told vice.com that the team found trash "almost everywhere," from shallow crevices to seabeds many metres below the surface.

In some instances, trash was found nearly 2,000 km away from the closest human settlement.

“We found it close to land and we found it as far out as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (about halfway between North America and Europe). We found it in places humans have never been or looked at before. Every time we put a camera down, we found it,” Howell told Vice reporter Jason Koebler.

Between 1999 and 2011, the team surveyed a total of 32 sites in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, at depths ranging from 35 to 4,500 metres.

While litter appears to be more prevalent closer to shore, garbage is everywhere.

On average the team discovered an average of 20 pieces of litter per hectare with the most common items being plastic bags, glass bottles, fishing lines and nets.

"The large quantities of litter reaching the deep ocean floor is a major issue worldwide, yet little is known about its sources, patterns of distribution, abundance and, particularly, impacts on the habitats and associated fauna," the study says.

"It is important that in the future, large-scale assessments are done in a standardised manner to understand fully the scale of the problem and set the necessary actions to prevent the accumulation of litter in the marine environment."

The complete findings can be found online at PLOS One.

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