Growing pile of garbage found on Arctic’s ocean floor
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Researchers have found a growing amount of plastic bags and other litter on the ocean floor in one of the most remote places on Earth — the Arctic.
Images from a deep-sea observation station off the northeastern coast of Greenland show that the amount of plastic and litter on the ocean floor has doubled since 2002.
“There’s a lot going around and there will be more because we produce more plastic — 230 million tonnes of plastic produced every year, that’s the current estimate. Ten per cent of this goes into the sea,” said researcher Melanie Bergmann in an interview with the Toronto Star.
Bergmann released her findings in a study published by the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. Bergmann analyzed more than 2,000 photographs taken by underwater cameras positioned about 2.5 kilometres under the water’s surface.
What she found was shocking. In 2002, one per cent of the images had litter in them. By 2011, that number doubled to two per cent of the images.
“It doesn’t seem so important right now but if the amount is increasing it could become a big problem,” said Bergmann. She noted the biggest increase was in the period between 2007 and 2011.
The majority of the litter was plastic.
The garbage is harmful to the ocean floor because it can suffocate sea life and change the makeup of soil. Bergmann said they noticed bags on sponges, sea anemones settling on discarded plastic and a beer bottle colonized by sea lilies.
Almost 70 per cent of the litter observed by the research team had come into contact with living organisms. In some cases the waste can damage or kill the organisms, but in other cases it creates a new habitat.
“This means that the waste could change the deep-sea composition of species and therefore biodiversity in the long-term,” said Bergmann in a statement.
The report attributes some of the increase in waste to more fishing and yachting traffic close to the area, though Bergmann says that the biggest contributor is the Atlantic current.
“Even if fishing stopped in the Arctic and we could educate small yachts to be more cautious with their waste, this would still be a source of plastic floating to the north,” she said. “I think this problem will be ongoing unless we start to reduce the amount of plastic produced.”