Litter Found in Deep Sea Survey

An article on the Guardian today shared photos from a recent deep sea exploration near the Cayman islands, in the Cayman Trough. The exploration via unmanned vehicle was meant to shed light on the mysteries of the often unseen ocean, but the photos from the mission have found something more upsetting than the anticipated beauty of the deep sea floor: litter. According to Jon Copley, one of the researchers behind the mission, images from the dive with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Isis uncovered trash on the sea floor. The rubbish, which included two soft drink cans, a beer bottle, and a food tin, are examples of the human impact that Copley and his team have observed time and time again in their undersea explorations. He comments:

In the logsheets that we use to record our observations at the seafloor, we have several categories for any human impacts that we encounter. To pass the time during a recent three-hour descent to the ocean floor, one of my research students asked me which of the categories I had seen before in recent deep-sea expeditions. The answer was all of them. Discarded fishing nets? Yes, on underwater mountains in the Indian Ocean. Discarded longlines? Yes, more than a mile deep in the remote south Atlantic. Plastic? Yes, a shopping bag at a deep-sea vent in a Pacific marine protected area. Scrap metal? Yes, a tangle of discarded pipework on an undersea volcanic ridge north of the Azores.

The areas that Copley and his team have explored are some of the deepest that have been seen by human eyes. 5,000 meters beneath the sea, one of their photographs depicts a plastic bottle sitting on the ocean floor. Copley writes that, as the human population of the planet increases, it is important that people are aware of the consequences of their actions. Plastic is simply the next contaminant in a range of human refuse that has been disposed of in the ocean, but Copley argues that education and knowledge is something more readily available to the current generation than it was to our forbears. Ignorance, he says, can no longer be an excuse for the continued pollution of the world's oceans. Copley's advice? 

...to plot our course ahead among the economic opportunities and environmental challenges that the deep ocean has to offer, we need to think deep thoughts.

To read more about the research Jon Copley conducts with his partners aboard the R.R.S. James Cook, please see the full article on the Guardian here.

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