Journey to the Depths

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We usually think that plastic floats, like your rubber ducky in the bathtub or that shopping bag that got blown into a nearby lake. So it seems logical to think that plastic in the ocean would float as well. And there are many examples to back this up. Take the Great Pacific garbage patch for example, the largest build up of ocean plastic in the world, floating on the surface of the Pacific. Well… largest until now.

What we usually see bobbing along the waves at the beach are large pieces of plastics, things like disposable water bottles, fast food containers, and shopping bags. But there is a whole other world of plastic that we don’t see: the world of microplastics. Microplastics are any piece of plastic less that 5 mm in length, smaller than the diameter of your pinky finger, and researchers have discovered that these plastics don’t just stay on the ocean surface. Scientists at the The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute use a super cool ocean robot named “Ventana” to dive deep into the ocean to find out more about these plastics. And Ventana, like a robotic Sherlock Holmes on the trail of a criminal, has found an enormous amount of evidence suggesting that microplastics have reached the deepest parts of our oceans, and infiltrated the base of our food chain. In fact, the team’s findings suggest that the majority of ocean plastic is actually below the surface, not above it, and is being eaten by the millions of animals that live throughout the deep seas.

One animal that the team studied is the “giant larvacean.” This unusual critter is actually only the size of a tadpole, but it builds a meter (approximately 3 ft) wide “snot house” (a large bubble of mucus) that it uses to catch food. Every single giant larvacean they sampled contained microplastics regardless of what depth they collected it. We don’t really know what this means yet, but the more plastic there is in the food chain the more likely it is to make its way back to us. But there are many things you can do to help prevent more plastic from getting into the ocean!

Visit www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/ to learn more about plastic pollution. Visit www.teamorca.org and www.mbari.org/ to learn more about ocean conservation and ongoing research!

You can also check out ongoing ocean pollution prevention initiatives at www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/

Want to learn more? Visit https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/06/06/729419975/microplastics-have-invaded-the-deep-ocean-and-the-food-chain

July 9, 2019

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