A Deepening Problem: Plastic Microfibres Found at Astonishing Depths

The high global usage of plastic in products such as bottles and bags generates enormous quantities of plastic waste.

Due to its ability to persist in the environment, the use of plastic in society has led to an array of global problems. Throughout our world’s oceans, 44-50% of marine organisms have been found to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris. However, researchers still need to investigate the long-lasting effects and impacts plastic has on the deep-sea marine environment.

A recent study by Dr Michelle Taylor and her team onboard the R.R.S James Cook, are the first to uncover evidence that plastic can interact with deep-water organisms. Using a manipulator arm and suction hose from a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), researchers sampled a collection of deep-sea creates from the south-west Indian Ocean and equatorial mid-Atlantic over a few years.

Dr Taylor’s team found plastic microfibers inside two-thirds of all organisms exam-ined, notably in oral and digestive areas with organisms located at astonishing depths from 334-1783m in the mid-Atlantic and 954-1062m in the equatorial SW Indian Ocean.

“Our study shows for the first time that deep-sea organisms are ingesting microfibres in a natural setting,” said Taylor. “There appears to be no environment on Earth that has escaped plastic pollution. It is clear that we must be aware of the impact our waste has on the environment and we should continue to find ways to cut down the use of plastic in society.”

‘Despite its remote location, the deep sea and its fragile habitats are already being exposed to human waste to the extent that diverse organisms are ingesting microplastics,’ Taylor concluded.

Original Paper:

Taylor, M. L., Gwinnett, C., Robinson, L. F., & Woodall, L. C. (2016). Plastic microfibre ingestion by deep-sea organisms. Scientific Reports, 6, 33997.

By: Margaux Monfared, University of Portsmouth, School of Biological Sciences (Institute of Marine Sciences)

ecoCURRENTS is a joint initiative between ECO magazine and select universities, which benefits science students by recruiting them to summarize the latest marine science research and providing them with a published byline. Beginning in December 2016, students from University of Portsmouth, School of Biological Sciences (Institute of Marine Science) contributed short articles to ECO editor Greg Leatherman. These are published online, with select articles also appearing in ECO’s print edition.

ECO expects to add more universities to this initiative during 2017. Interested administrators should contact Greg Leatherman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Special thanks goes to Kira Coley, a lecturer in science communication at the University of Portsmouth, who played a ma-or role in getting ecoCURRENTS underway.

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