Plastic Tide 'Causing $13 Billion in Damage', UN Says
One Fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Shoe fish
Trash on the bottom of the ocean used to be out of sight and out of mind, but a project by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) brought images of deep sea dumps to the surface. The MBARI team observed more than 1,500 pieces of trash on the seafloor from Vancouver Island to the Gulf of California, and as far west as the Hawaiian Islands.
Oceanic life sometimes made the best of this bad situation by colonizing the garbage. For example, this young rockfish is a shoe-in for survival and adaptation at 472 meters (1,548 feet) deep in San Gabriel Canyon, off Southern California.
Seafloor Social Network
Other young rockfish swim around discarded fishing equipment on the floor of Monterey Canyon off the coast of California. Luckily for them, the net isn't working. While some marine life may be able to adapt to human garbage, oceanic trash can trap animals, release toxins, smother plants and have other negative effects.
Boxing Day for Crabs
An octopus coils and crabs crawl over a metal box 2,432 meters (7979 feet) deep in Monterey Canyon.
This shipping container was discovered by MBARI four months after it fell off the merchant vessel Med Taipei during a storm in February of 2004. The container was just one of the estimated 10,000 shipping containers lost overboard every year.
Drums in the Deep
A wanna-be Sebastian the Crab, from Disney's the Little Mermaid, may be planning to turn this drum into a percussion instrument for a calypso band under the sea. The 55-gallon drum lies 2,892 meters (9,488 feet) deep in outer Monterey Canyon.
Even fragile garbage like this old cardboard can become part of the ocean floor ecosystem if it isn't handled with care. However, the crabs may be grouchy that cardboard covers their habitat 3,950 meters deep, offshore of Point Conception, Santa Barbara County, California.
A sea anemone (top) and sea cucumber (right) gained traction on the surface of this tire submerged 868 meters (2,850 feet) beneath the waves in Monterey Canyon.
The ubiquitous Coca Cola logo can be found even 1,200 meters deep in Monterey Canyon.
Classic Fish Pun
This old shoe is in pretty bad shape, but it seems to still have its sole...or is that a flounder (upper left)?
It's in the Water
The slogan of Olympia beer, “It's the water,” can barely be read on this old can. In this case, lots and lots of water.
Someone didn't turn in this soda bottle for a deposit. Instead, deep in the sea, brittle stars creep around the bottle on Davidson Seamount, 60 miles offshore of California and 1,727 meters (5,666 feet) below the ocean surface. "The most frustrating thing for me is that most of the material we saw—glass, metal, paper, plastic—could be recycled," said Kyra Schlining, lead author of the MBARI study published in Deep-Sea Research, in a press release.
The Long Black Veil
A gorgonian coral wears a veil of black plastic 2,115 meters (almost 7,000 feet) deep in Astoria Canyon, off the coast of Oregon. The veil could become a death shroud if the plastic were to completely cover the coral and block coral polyps from feeding.
Dr. Pepper's slogan could be modified to, “Would you like to be a polluter too?” for this can submerged 1,529 meters deep on Axial Seamount, off the Pacific Northwest's coast. The nearby brittle stars probably can't tell the difference between Dr. Pepper detritus and Mr. Pibb pollution.
The dumping of plastic waste into the world's oceans is causing at least $13 billion a year of damage, threatening marine life, tourism and fisheries, the United Nations warned Monday at the launch of a global environment conference.
"Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored," said UN Environment Programme (UNEP) chief Achim Steiner said.
"The key course of action is to prevent plastic debris from entering the environment in the first place, which translates into a single powerful objective: reduce, reuse, recycle."
Scientists have found tiny plastic fragments trapped in sea ice in polar regions, while plastic waste has killed marine life, whether it be eaten by sea creatures such as turtles, tangled up dolphins and whales, or caused "damage to critical habitats such as coral reefs," the report read.
"There are also concerns about chemical contamination, invasive species spread by plastic fragments, and economic damage to the fishing and tourism industries in many countries?by, for example, fouling fishing equipment and polluting beaches," it added.
While much of the plastic waste ends up in vast mid-ocean rubbish patches where marine currents converge, micro-plastics -- tiny fragments less than five millimetres in diameter -- have had a growing impact that is particularly worrying, UNEP said.
"Their ingestion has been widely reported in marine organisms, including seabirds, fish, mussels, worms and zooplankton," the report added.
"Transported by ocean currents across great distances, these contaminated particles eventually become a source of chemicals in our food," Steiner added.
Some of the tiny fragments are caused by the breakdown of plastics, but one emerging issue is the increasing use of directly created "micro beads" of plastic in toothpaste, gels and facial cleansers.
"These micro plastics tend not to be filtered out during sewage treatment, but are released directly into rivers, lakes and the ocean," the report added.
Companies should take responsibility, with experts arguing they could also boost their business savings through greater recycling efforts.
"The research unveils the need for companies to consider their plastic footprint, just as they do for carbon, water and forestry," said Andrew Russell, chief of the Plastic Disclosure Project, a UNEP backed organisation.
The UNEP report was released at its headquarters in Kenya as it opened its first week-long conference bringing together over 1,200 delegates and experts to discuss a raft of environment challenges.
The UNEP conference runs until Friday, tackling a range of subjects including sustainable consumption and production, and financing the "green economy".
It will also examine the illegal trade in wildlife and environmental rule of law.
The conference comes amid tight security in the Kenyan capital, after a series of warnings of the threat of attack by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab.