Monday March 20, 2023

Hakai Magazine

Plastic pollution is everywhere, from the tip of Mount Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Wherever it goes, plastic has unexpected effects: it transports pathogens, strangles wildlife, and, sometimes, becomes habitat. But on the bottom of the Philippine Trench, 10,000 meters deep, plastic is reshaping life on the seafloor.

In 2021, Alan Jamieson, a marine biologist at the University of Western Australia, Deo Florence L. Onda, a microbial oceanographer at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, and their crew descended into the third-deepest trench in the world. The place was swarming with plastic bags.

As the scientists watched, the deep-sea current was dragging plastic bags along the seafloor, scraping it with parallel lines like tire tracks. Jamieson had seen these tracks before when he joined the Five Deeps Expedition, which journeyed to the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic, the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean, the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific, and the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean. But he’d never understood where they came from. “There’s nothing in the deep sea that travels in straight lines,” Jamieson says.

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