NEWS: The underwater 'garbage patch'

A new study suggests microplastics are probably accumulating in some of the most biodiverse spots of the seafloor - as well as above the surface in places like the North Pacific Ocean garbage patch.

A paper in Science says: "While microplastics are known to pervade the global seafloor, the processes that control their dispersal and concentration in the deep sea remain largely unknown."

It found rather than sinking in a straight line, there's underwater 'bottom currents' moving the microplastics around, adding: "These currents are known to supply oxygen and nutrients to deep sea benthos (animals that live on the sea floor) suggesting that deep sea biodiversity hotspots are also likely to be microplastic hotspots."

It added: "Plastic pollution has been observed in nearly all environments on Earth and across all of its oceans.

"Determining where microplastics accumulate and their availability for incorporation into the food chain is fundamental to understanding threats to globally important deep seafloor ecosystem."

"Due to their small size, microplastics can be ingested by organisms across all trophic levels, enabling transfer of harmful toxic substances. "Therefore, determining where microplastics accumulate and their availability for incorporation into the food chain is fundamental to understanding threats to globally important deep seafloor ecosystems.

"Converging surface currents in oceanic gyres (circulating ocean currents) are responsible for the global distribution of plastics on the ocean surface. "These gyres effectively concentrate positively buoyant plastics into the now infamous “garbage patches.” "However, sea surface accumulations only account for approximately 1% of the estimated global marine plastic budget. "Most of the missing 99% of plastic ends up in the deep sea. A considerable proportion -estimated at 13.5% - of the marine plastic budget occurs as microplastics: small (<1 mm) fragments and fibers that originate as manufactured particles from synthetic textiles or derive from the breakdown of larger plastic debris.

"The effects of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems and implications for human health are of growing concern, as more than ten million tonnes of plastic enter the global ocean each year."

"It has been shown that larger plastic debris may be associated with dense down-canyon flows in the Mediterranean. "The seafloor is a globally important sink for plastics; however, the physical controls on the distribution of microplastics, and the effectiveness of their sequestration once deposited at seafloor remains unclear.

"Due to their small size, microplastics can be ingested by organisms across all trophic levels, enabling transfer of harmful toxic substances. "Therefore, determining where microplastics accumulate and their availability for incorporation into the food chain is fundamental to understanding threats to globally important deep seafloor ecosystems." To read the full study click here

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