According to a report by The Guardian, scientists have recently discovered what is being described as “extraordinary levels” of pollution, including man made items such as containers of SPAM and cans of Budweiser, in the 10 km (nearly 11 mile) deep Mariana Trench, located in the western Pacific Ocean.
The trench, which is the deepest part of all the world’s oceans, is home to numerous species of marine animals, including several small crustaceans. A research expedition led by Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University found that these small crustaceans were contaminated with a whopping 50 times more toxic chemicals than those that live in the heavily polluted rivers of China.
Of the several types of pollutants found in the trench, Jamieson’s team were able to identify two types of extremely hazardous industrial chemicals which were outlawed as long ago as the 1970s. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” Jamieson said.
These chemicals, referred to as persistent organic pollutants or POPs, are water repellent and have a tendency to stick to discarded plastics, metals, and other trash which humans carelessly dispose of. Previously, these chemicals have been found at high levels in Inuit people in the Canadian Arctic as well as in orcas and dolphins located in western Europe.
Jamieson stated that these pollutants are having a negative effect on the animals that make their home in the Mariana. “[Deep trenches] are inhabited by incredibly efficient scavenging animals, like the 2cm-long amphipods we sampled,” he claimed, “any little bit of material that falls down, these guys turn up in huge numbers and devour it.”
Although Jamieson’s team said it isn’t uncommon to find traces of POP pollution in places like the Mariana Trench, but the sheer amount they discovered was highly unexpected. “When [pollution] gets down into the trenches, there is nowhere else for it to go. The surprise was just how high the levels were — the contamination in the animals was sky high,” Jamieson said.
The level of one the POP, called polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, was so significant that it could only be rivaled by the levels found in Suruga Bay, Japan, which is infamous for being one of the most heavily bodies of water on the planet. PCBs were commonly used and manufactured until the late 1970s, when their highly dangerous potential to wildlife and humans was realized.
Katherine Dafforn, an ecologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, agreed that the research performed by Jamieson’s team is highly significant, stating, “Jamieson’s team has provided clear evidence that the deep ocean, rather than being remote, is highly connected to surface waters. Their findings are crucial for future monitoring and management of these unique environments.”
Following his team’s findings, Jamieson continues to examine the pollution’s impact on the hardy wildlife of the Mariana Trench. In the near future, he will be conducting further research on the effects that POP pollutants, as well as man-made plastic pollutants, have on these creatures already rare creatures.