Microplastic pollution identified in deep-sea water and ingested by benthic invertebrates in the Rockall Trough, North Atlantic Ocean

Microplastics are widespread in the natural environment and present numerous ecological threats. While the ultimate fate of marine microplastics are not well known, it is hypothesized that the deep sea is the final sink for this anthropogenic contaminant. This study provides a quantification and characterisation of microplastic pollution ingested by benthic macroinvertebrates with different feeding modes (Ophiomusium lymani, Hymenaster pellucidus and Colus jeffreysianus) and in adjacent deep water > 2200 m, in the Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Despite the remote location, microplastic fibres were identified in deep-sea water at a concentration of 70.8 particles m−3, comparable to that in surface waters. Of the invertebrates examined (n = 66), 48% ingested microplastics with quantities enumerated comparable to coastal species. The number of ingested microplastics differed significantly between species and generalized linear modelling identified that the number of microplastics ingested for a given tissue mass was related to species and not organism feeding mode or the length or overall weight of the individual. Deep-sea microplastics were visually highly degraded with surface areas more than double that of pristine particles. The identification of synthetic polymers with densities greater and less than seawater along with comparable quantities to the upper ocean indicates processes of vertical re-distribution. This study presents the first snapshot of deep ocean microplastics and the quantification of microplastic pollution in the Rockall Trough. Additional sampling throughout the deep-sea is required to assess levels of microplastic pollution, vertical transportation and sequestration, which have the potential to impact the largest global ecosystem.

Winnie Courtene-Jones, Brian Quinn, Stefan F. Gary, Andrew O.M. Mogg, Bhavani E. Narayanaswamy, Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 1, December 2017, Pages 271-280

The article


High quantities of microplastic in Arctic deep-sea sediments from the HAUSGARTEN observatory

Although mounting evidence suggests the ubiquity of microplastic in aquatic ecosystems worldwide, our knowledge of its distribution in remote environments such as Polar Regions and the deep sea is scarce. Here, we analyzed nine sediment samples taken at the HAUSGARTEN observatory in the Arctic at 2,340 – 5,570 m depth. Density separation by MicroPlastic Sediment Separator and treatment with Fenton’s reagent enabled analysis via Attenuated Total Reflection FTIR and µFTIR spectroscopy. Our analyses indicate the wide spread of high numbers of microplastics (42 – 6,595 microplastics kg-1). The northernmost stations harbored the highest quantities, indicating sea ice as a transport vehicle. A positive correlation between microplastic abundance and chlorophyll a content suggests vertical export via incorporation in sinking (ice-) algal aggregates. Overall, 18 different polymers were detected. Chlorinated polyethylene accounted for the largest proportion (38 %), followed by polyamide (22 %) and polypropylene (16 %). Almost 80 % of the microplastics were ≤ 25 µm. The microplastic quantities are amongst the highest recorded from benthic sediments, which corroborates the deep sea as a major sink for microplastics and the presence of accumulation areas in this remote part of the world, fed by plastics transported to the North via the Thermohaline Circulation.

Melanie Bergmann, Vanessa Wirzberger, Thomas Krumpen, Claudia Lorenz, Sebastian Primpke, Mine B. Tekman, and Gunnar Gerdts, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, August 17, 2017

Benthic litter distribution on circalittoral and deep sea bottoms of the southern Bay of Biscay: Analysis of potential drivers

We analyze marine litter densities in soft bottoms of the southern Bay of Biscay using five years of demersal trawling data (2006- 2010). Marine litter densities amounted to 43 ± 33 kg·km−2 and 74 ± 28 items·km−2, with plastics and fisheries derived litter being the most widespread categories. Litter densities generally decreased along the water depth axis. To identify possible drivers for the observed litter distribution we performed a generalised additive model, which explained 14.8% of the variance and pointed to densely populated areas, number of fishing ports, geographical sector and fishing activity as the main explanatory factors. The most important driver for the benthic litter distribution was human population, as litter density linearly increased along this variable. Similarly, the number of ports in neighbouring areas had a positive effect on litter densities. Fishing effort had a negative and non-linear effect on benthic litter density which could be explained by litter delocalization during fishing operations. We hypothesise that litter might accumulate preferentially on the periphery of rocky bottoms, out of reach for our sampling methodology. Litter distribution differed among geographical sectors, pointing to other variables such as shipping traffic and oceanographic currents, which were not explicitly considered in the analysis. Our study sets a reference level for benthic macro-litter in the southern Bay of Biscay and identifies factors driving its distribution, which can be extrapolated to other continental shelf seas. Our findings lay the foundations to develop measures aiming to reduce macro-litter densities on the seafloor.

L. Lopez-Lopez, J.M. Gonzalez Irusta, A. Punzón, A. Serrano, Continental Shelf Research, Volume 144, 15 July 2017, Pages 112-119

The article

Marine litter on deep Arctic seafloor continues to increase and spreads to the North at the HAUSGARTEN observatory

The increased global production of plastics has been mirrored by greater accumulations of plastic litter in marine environments worldwide. Global plastic litter estimates based on field observations account only for 1% of the total volumes of plastic assumed to enter the marine ecosystem from land, raising again the question ‘Where is all the plastic? ’. Scant information exists on temporal trends on litter transport and litter accumulation on the deep seafloor. Here, we present the results of photographic time-series surveys indicating a strong increase in marine litter over the period of 2002–2014 at two stations of the HAUSGARTEN observatory in the Arctic (2500 m depth).

Plastic accounted for the highest proportion (47%) of litter recorded at HAUSGARTEN for the whole study period. When the most southern station was considered separately, the proportion of plastic items was even higher (65%). Increasing quantities of small plastics raise concerns about fragmentation and future microplastic contamination. Analysis of litter types and sizes indicate temporal and spatial differences in the transport pathways to the deep sea for different categories of litter. Litter densities were positively correlated with the counts of ship entering harbour at Longyearbyen, the number of active fishing vessels and extent of summer sea ice. Sea ice may act as a transport vehicle for entrained litter, being released during periods of melting. The receding sea ice coverage associated with global change has opened hitherto largely inaccessible environments to humans and the impacts of tourism, industrial activities including shipping and fisheries, all of which are potential sources of marine litter.

Mine B. Tekman, Thomas Krumpen, Melanie Bergmann,  Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, Volume 120, February 2017, Pages 88–99

The article

Plastic microfibre ingestion by deep-sea organisms

Plastic waste is a distinctive indicator of the world-wide impact of anthropogenic activities. Both macro- and micro-plastics are found in the ocean, but as yet little is known about their ultimate fate and their impact on marine ecosystems. In this study we present the first evidence that microplastics are already becoming integrated into deep-water organisms. By examining organisms that live on the deep-sea floor we show that plastic microfibres are ingested and internalised by members of at least three major phyla with different feeding mechanisms. These results demonstrate that, despite its remote location, the deep sea and its fragile habitats are already being exposed to human waste to the extent that diverse organisms are ingesting microplastics.

M. L. Taylor, C. Gwinnett, L. F. Robinson  & L. C. Woodall, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 33997 (2016)

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The Ryukyu Trench may function as a “depocenter” for anthropogenic marine litter

While concern over anthropogenic marine litter around coastlines is increasing worldwide, information on this litter in trenches on the seafloor is very sparse. We investigated the amount of marine litter on the deep-sea bottom around the Ryukyu Islands in the Northwest Pacific, based on trawl samples. The density of litter observed in the axis of the Ryukyu Trench (7100 m) and in the basin of the Okinawa Trough ranged from 1.2 × 103 to 7.1 × 103 items km−2, or 7.5–121.4 kg km−2, which was significantly higher than that observed on the adjacent shallower continental slopes or abyssal plain (0.1 × 103 to 0.6 × 103 items km−2; 0.03–9.2 kg km−2). This suggests that trenches and troughs function as “depocenters” for anthropogenic litter because of their deeper and enclosed topographies.

, Kensuke Yanagi, Journal of Oceanography, pp 1–9, July 2016

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