• Outdoors Outdoors

Scientists find concerning accumulation of pollution in ocean: 'The ocean floor has become a resting place, or reservoir'

The estimate could be 100 times more than what we believe is floating on the surface.

The estimate could be 100 times more than what we believe is floating on the surface.

Photo Credit: iStock

Plastics are piling up all around us, and now, scientists say, they're also piling up on the ocean floor.

What happened?

New research estimates that up to 11 million metric tons (more than 12 tons) of plastic pollution is sitting on the ocean floor, reported CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, via Phys.org.

"We discovered that the ocean floor has become a resting place, or reservoir, for most plastic pollution, with between 3 [and] 11 million [metric] tons [about 3.3 to 12.1 million tons] of plastic estimated to be sinking to the ocean floor," said Denise Hardesty, CSIRO senior research scientist.

The plastics accumulate there, she said, before breaking down into smaller microplastics that mix in with ocean sediment. 

While previous studies have looked at microplastics on the seafloor, this research is the first of its kind, taking into account larger items like nets, cups, and plastic bags.

Why is the study concerning?

According to Phys.org and the World Economic Forum, a garbage truck's worth of plastic enters the ocean every single minute. The International Union for Conservation of Nature explained that ocean organisms sometimes eat this waste and it moves up the food web, eventually ending up in our bodies. This is dangerous, as several chemicals used in plastic production are known carcinogens that can cause developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in humans and wildlife.

And according to the study's lead author, Alice Zhu, the estimate of plastic pollution sitting on the ocean floor could be 100 times more than what we believe is floating on the surface. 

We already know that ocean plastics endanger wildlife like seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles who may mistake plastic for prey. Most of these animals die of starvation as their stomachs become filled with plastic, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They can also suffer from lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim, and internal injuries, the organization said. Similarly, plastic waste on the ocean floor affects plants and animals who live and hunt in this zone, and can move up the food chain. 

What can I do to help with ocean plastics?

Luckily, a number of companies and governments are hopping on board to reduce plastic pollution. For instance, McDonald's U.K. has banned all plastic cutlery. And major beer brands like Coors Light are getting rid of plastic packaging rings.

Meanwhile, a lot of plastic alternatives are popping up, and scientists have discovered how to break down plastic using hungry wax worms and fungus.

You can do your part by reducing the amount of plastics you use in your daily life: ditch single-use water bottles, invest in reusable grocery sacks, support brands with plastic-free packaging, and switch to bar shampoo and conditioner.

Join our free newsletter for cool news and cool tips that make it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider