New Species Found in Earth's Deepest Trench Has Plastic in Its Body—So Scientists Have Named It Eurythenes Plasticus

Scientists have discovered a new species of marine animal in the deepest trench on Earth—a find which might normally be cause for celebration. However, the researchers also identified plastics in its body, highlighting the scale of the global pollution crisis.

A team from Newcastle University in the U.K. found the creature—a type of crustacean known as an amphipod (colloquially referred to as "hoppers")—in the Mariana Trench at a depth of around 20,000 feet, according to research published in the journal Zootaxa.

The 1,580 mile-long trench located in the western Pacific Ocean has a maximum depth of around 36,000 feet. But even animals living in these extreme and seemingly remote environments don't appear to be exempt from the impacts of plastic pollution.

The researchers found tiny pieces of plastic debris known as microplastics in the body of the previously unknown amphipod. The material they identified is polyethylene terephthalate (PET)—a common plastic which is widely used in food and drink packaging.

As a result of this find, the Newcastle team decided to name the new species Eurythenes plasticus in order to highlight the fact that immediate action needs to be taken to "stop the deluge of plastic waste into our oceans," Alan Jamieson, marine ecologist and lead author of the study, said in a statement. The animal is now one of 240 known species to have been recorded ingesting plastic.

"We have new species turning up that are already contaminated and so we have missed the window to understand these species in a natural environment," Jamieson told Newsweek. "[This discovery] exemplifies the extent of the plastic problem. Species in remote and extreme marine environments are suffering as a result of human activity. Any detrimental effects on large populations are hard to grasp in new species as we didn't know what these populations were like prior to contamination."

Plastic debris is now common throughout throughout the world's oceans. In fact, one 2015 study found that around eight million tonnes of the material enters the oceans every year. Once in the water, this plastic can break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics—which are frequently ingested by marine animals such as Eurythenes plasticus.

Eurythenes plasticus
Micro-CT scan of Eurythenes plasticus. Alan Jamieson/Newcastle University

"Having indigestible fragments in its guts can lead to blockage, less room for food, and the absorption of nastier chemicals like PCBs which bind to plastic in water," Jamieson told Newsweek.

Lauren Spurrier, Vice President of Ocean Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)—who was not involved in the paper (although WWF supported the research)—said the decision to call this newly discovered species from one of the deepest and remote places on the planet Eurythenes plasticus was a "bold and necessary move."

"There can be no disputing the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our environment and its impact on nature," she said in a statement provided to Newsweek. "We now are seeing even more devastating impacts of plastic pollution, in that it is infecting species science is only just now discovering. While the official existence of plastics in the taxonomic record is a stark concept, this discovery should mobilize us all to take immediate strong action against this global pollutant."

Heike Vesper, Director of the Marine Programme at WWF Germany, added in a statement: "Plastics are in the air that we breathe, in the water that we drink and now also in animals that live far away from human civilization."