Plastic is probably everywhere in your life—but according to new research conducted in the very deepest parts of the ocean, that’s true even for the most remote tiny seafloor critters living almost 7 miles below the surface as well.
The tests, which were done on small shellfish found in deep-sea trenches across the Pacific Ocean, haven’t been published in a scientific journal yet and were conducted under the auspices of Sky Ocean Rescue, an anti-plastic pollution campaign run by a European media company. But this sort of finding has been expected for quite a while.
“These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris,” lead researcher Alan Jamieson, a senior lecturer in marine ecology at Newcastle University, in the United Kingdom, said in a press release.
Jamieson and his colleagues had already determined that these deep-sea trenches are full of plastic. But they also wanted to know how animals in that environment were interacting with the pollution that surrounds them. So they sent underwater robots down into trenches across the Pacific Ocean to collect small shellfish, which they brought back up to the surface so they could look inside their stomachs.
And those examinations were not pretty, to say the least. “The results were both immediate and startling,” Jamieson said in the press release. “There were instances where the fibers could actually be seen in the stomach contents as they were being removed.”
All told, they gathered 90 critters out of trenches ranging from 4 to 7 miles deep. More than half the animals from every single spot had plastic inside of them. This spanned a whole range of types of plastic, including textile materials like rayon and nylon, and harder plastics like polyvinyls.
According to calculations scientists published earlier this year, humans have produced a whopping 9 billion tons of plastic since figuring out how to make it in the first place. Most of that plastic has been discarded, and about 300 million tons of it have ended up in the ocean.
Once plastic reaches the ocean, it can gradually sink down to the seafloor, be carried around the globe by currents, and break down into infinitesimally small pieces. But it never actually disappears—it just lurks in the environment, waiting for scientists to come looking for it.