Jun 10, 2019 09:48 AM EDT
Anela Choy is a scientist that focuses on studying what underwater creatures eat. In effect, she is also studying the plastic materials that are present underwater. Over the years that she has observed what the fish eat, she has stumbled upon debris after the debris of plastics in the stomachs of certain types of fish, particularly those that rarely swim up the surface to eat. The plastic must be going down and it must have reached the deepest parts of the ocean to be consumed by these species.
Microplastics are those plastic materials that come in five-millimeter sizes. Several studies all over the world have been conducted about the problem of plastics in the ocean surface. Most people think that plastics have the tendency to be buoyant. It is easier to study what's in the ocean's surface. However, Choy is a biological oceanographer of the University of California who wanted to go deeper. In 2017, Choy and her team sent and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) down to 3,200 feet in Monterey Bay in California. It systemically moves up and down in a water column to collect samples from the surface and from down there.
The process paved the way for data to be collected and it showed that there are more microplastics hidden at the depths of the ocean than the ones found near the surface. The ROV found that between the depths of 200 to 600 meters below the surface, there are the highest levels of plastics concentration. What is even worse is the fact that the concentration found in those levels are at par with the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
"The Monterey Bay is in itself a success story. It's famously clean and is a very beautiful place. The fish and sardine population are continuously rising since its crash in the mid-1900s," said Kyle S. Van Houtan, chief scientist of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "However, if you look beyond the surface, there is a huge concentration of plastic that it can be likened to the dirty state that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been known for."
However, the plastic found in the depths of the ocean did not come as a surprise. "We've known for a long time that if the plastics continue to go to the ocean, but the surface doesn't show that it is adding up, we knew it was going somewhere," said Tamara Galloway. She is an ecotoxicologist from the University of Exeter. "Down is where the rest of the plastic went."
The study about Monterey Bay does not only suggest that there is plastic down there. It practically shows that the microplastics that are present below the ocean are abundant. As the problem of plastic pollution has gained attention, scientists can only hope that solutions to the problem would go viral too.
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