Plastic. In the stomach of a new creature discovered well below sea level: nearly 7,000 meters deep in the Pacific Ocean Mariana Trench, between Japan and the Philippines and under the Great Patch of Pacific Garbage. Plastic contamination reaches unusual extremes. A sad reality.
Scientists have named this new seabed animal "Eurythenes plasticus" to draw attention to the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans.
The new amphipod species is contaminated with PET-type plastic, mainly used to manufacture water bottles and other beverages, clothing and household goods. Although the coin-sized scavenger is new to science and lives in remote waters, its plastic contamination shows that it is not exempt from the impact of human pollution on our planet. Deep-sea amphipods are voracious eaters, so they may be more susceptible to micro-plastic ingestion. Due to the scarcity of food available in the depths of the sea, these animals have adopted the ability to eat almost anything.
"Finding a new species that we didn’t know was there before and finding plastic in it only shows how widespread it is as a contaminant," said Johanna Weston, a doctoral student and leader of the work published by Zootaxa magazine. "We found a microfiber in a sample of 6,900 metres and that microfiber was 83% similar to polyethylene terephthalate or PET".
This plastic polymer usually used in water bottles does not degrade naturally in the environment. As it decomposes, PET becomes smaller and smaller, and eventually breaks down into micro-plastics that appear in an increasing proportion of marine animals worldwide. Once such micro-plastics reach the depths of the sea, they accumulate over time as they have nowhere else to go.
Regarding the scientific name of the new animal, Alan Jamieson, from the University of Newcastle in England, explains: "Unfortunately that was one of the most striking things we found in the species and I think we need to note this in the taxonomic record. We are just making a statement to say that we are at the point where we are seeing a new species of an unexplored habitat that is already contaminated with plastic. We need to take immediate action to stop the flood of plastic waste in our oceans, "says the expert.
The damage that can be caused by ingestion of micro-plastics in these animals does not only happen by ingesting plastic, but also by the associated chemicals. As Jamieson explains, there are many other pollutants at sea known as persistent organic pollutants or POPs. Most of them are hydrophobic, which means they don’t like water and they don’t join anything else in the ocean, but they do love plastic. Plastics act as a magnet for POPs, collecting pollutants that eventually sink to the ocean floor along with their host. Deep-water animals that end up eating this plastic are contaminated with these chemicals, which are known to cause reproductive damage.
It is clear that what we are doing today may affect even animals that live thousands of feet below sea level. It is necessary for nations around the world to deal with this global disaster. Let us remember that the United Nations Environment Programme warns that every year more than eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans.
Reference: New species of Eurythenes from hadal depths of the Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean (Crustacea: Amphipoda) JOHANNA N. J. WESTON, PRISCILLA CARRILLO-BARRAGAN, THOMAS D. LINLEY, WILLIAM D. K. REID, ALAN J. JAMIESON 2020 ZOOTAXA DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4748.1.9