Microplastics Have Reached the Deep Sea — in Monterey Bay

whale

Plastic pollution is no longer a surface level problem. Recent discoveries have uncovered that plastics have reached the deep sea. They’ve even been discovered in the deepest natural trench in the world.

What does this tell us? The critical state of plastic pollution is worsening. Plastics are now present throughout the entire ocean. And the harmful pollutants are closer to home than we once thought.

The Monterey Bay Study

A recent study conducted in Monterey Bay off the coast of Northern California found there are far more microplastics at the bottom of the sea than there are at the surface. A team of scientists tested the Bay’s water column to see how the concentration of plastic varied from the surface to the ocean floor. They found microplastics in every sample they took, and their samples showed that the highest concentrations of microplastics were located between 650 and 1,000 feet down. That’s four times as much plastic as they found at the surface.

Monterey Bay is a deep submarine canyon ecosystem. It’s an important conservation area for marine life, and part of the migratory path for gray whales and humpback whales. It is also part of the deep pelagic zone, the largest habitat on earth. Finding so much plastic here means there could be far more plastic than we know about in deep waters all over the world. These plastics will be far more difficult to remove than plastics floating near the surface.

Researchers determined that most of the plastic they found came from land, not from fishing activity. Additionally, the majority of the microplastics were plastic #1, or PET. This is the kind of plastic that is used in single-use items such as water bottles and takeout food containers.

How You Can Help

You can take action to prevent more single-use plastics washing into the ocean. Avoid plastic packaging when possible, and invest in a reusable water bottle, reusable drinking straws and reusable food-safe containers. Refusing is the first step to reducing pollution. When you can’t refuse, recycle! Learn what plastics we accept for recycling in our Recycling Guide.