A recent survey of the ocean floor around Europe found trash scattered at every site that was studied, from shallow coastal regions to the deepest trenches located thousands of miles from cities.

PHOTOS: Life on the Ocean Floor Garbage Patch

An international team of oceanographers and marine scientists found bottles, plastic bags, fishing nets and other trash at 32 survey sites spread from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Although coastal areas held the most trash, the researchers found litter 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) from shore on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and 4,500 meters (2,796 miles) below the surface in the Cascais Canyon, west of Lisbon, Portugal.

Currents may sweep large amounts of trash from coastal areas into canyons which serve to funnel the trash further out to sea into deeper waters, suggest the researchers.

Recognizable trash included a Heineken beer can and an Uncle Ben’s rice box, but plastic items made up the majority of the litter. Some of this trash could prove deadly to animals, such as sea turtles that can mistake a plastic bag for a tasty jellyfish meal. Lost fishing gear and nets, another major component of the refuse, continued to trap fish and other wildlife on the bottom of the sea.

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To observe the ocean’s trash heap, remotely operated vehicles filmed the ocean floor in some areas while trawling nets dredged up the refuse in others. The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.


Photo: A Heineken beer (top) can sits in the upper Whittard canyon at 950 meters below the surface. Image taken with the ROV Genesis (Pham CK et al. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095839)

(Above) A cargo net is entangled in a cold-water coral colony at 950 meters in Darwin Mound. Image taken with the ROV ‘Lynx’