Plastic pollution in the world ocean

The human imprint of plastic pollution is now evident in all marine ecosystems. Scientists have documented plastics everywhere from white sand beaches and colorful coral reefs to the deepest, darkest trenches of the ocean. Plastic in the ocean imposes physical hazards to marine animals that eat or get tangled in it. Ocean plastic pollution presents a chemical hazard to the marine animals that ingest it. This toxic load includes both the synthetic ingredients in the plastic itself, and the contaminants that adhere to the plastic from the surrounding

Recent MBARI research has included a look at how plastic moves through the ocean food web, and how microplastics are ingested by larvaceans, which in turn excrete the pellets, sending them toward the seafloor. An MBARI team also did a comprehensive review of 22-years-worth of video from the deep sea to shed light on the distribution of marine debris in and around Monterey Canyon.

A plastic bottle entering the ocean at the surface starts to break down as it sinks and pieces of the bottle are eaten by different animals as the plastic sinks toward the seafloor.

Plastics in the ocean are broken down into smaller pieces and are ingested by many animals, contaminating the marine food web. Some of the plastic ends up on the seafloor. Illustration by Kelly Lance © 2017 MBARI

MBARI news about plastic pollution

Making the case for ocean conservation

June 8, 2018 – Bringing to light an urgent message of ocean conservation to the public, leaders of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium wrote a column that was published in the New York Times today.

MBARI research shows where trash accumulates in the deep sea

Jun 5, 2013 – Surprisingly large amounts of discarded trash end up in the ocean. Plastic bags, aluminum cans, and fishing debris not only clutter our beaches, but accumulate in open-ocean areas such as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Now, a paper by researchers at MBARI shows that trash is also accumulating in the deep sea, particularly in Monterey Canyon.

“We’re working to understand the transport and cycling of plastics through ocean food webs, and what this might mean for humans.””

—Former Postdoctoral Fellow Anela Choy
on a joint project with the Monterey Bay Aquarium