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Scientists make disturbing discovery after researching life deep below ocean's surface: 'It's really alarming'

This problem is not just limited to the ocean either.

Photo Credit: iStock

Photo Credit: iStock

Microplastics have infiltrated every part of our planet — even the deep ocean floor. One recent study revealed just how ubiquitous these tiny plastic particles have become.

What is happening?

The study, which was published in "Limnology and Oceanography," used data from the NOAA-funding DEEPEND deepwater survey of fish and marine organisms. In a somewhat surprising twist, it found that marine animals at deeper depths had consumed even more microplastics than ones collected at shallower depths.

"It's really alarming to think that these non-migratory organisms, that are thought to remain relatively quiescent [inactive] at depth for their entire life, are being exposed to plastic," Ryan Bos, the study's lead author, said.

Why is this concerning?

Consuming microplastics (as well as even larger pieces of plastic, which is also prevalent) has been shown to be unhealthy for marine life.

"It can cause physical damage. Eating plastic fragments with sharp edges or points to it can tear tissue," said Amy V. Uhrin, chief scientist for NOAA's Marine Debris Program. 

In addition, plastic is full of chemicals that can affect the marine animals that consume it.

"Plastics are infused with a lot of different chemicals for different reasons: to give them colors, make them rigid, make them more pliable, to serve as flame retardants," Uhrin said. "But when plastics get into the environment, there are also persistent organic pollutants that can adhere or adsorb to the surface of the plastic. So then you have this sort of chemical cocktail that can also enter the animal after it's ingested."

The problem of animals consuming plastic waste is not just limited to the ocean either — bears have increasingly been found with plastic in their stomachs, which causes myriad health issues. Recently, in Colorado, a bear had to be euthanized after suffering for months when its digestive system became blocked with plastic waste.

What is being done about the plastic problem?

Plastic products have become ubiquitous in our society, but to protect wild animals from their devastating effects, we need to decrease the amount of new plastic products that are created every day.

One way to do this is to make the individual choice to abstain from plastic products whenever possible, ditching things like single-use water bottles and single-use coffee products.

Another way is to pressure governments and elected officials to more heavily regulate the product and sale of plastic products. Massachusetts, for example, recently moved to ban state agencies from buying single-use plastic products.

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