In 2004, we discovered a sunken shipping container resting on the seabed in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). The container, one of 15 that fell from the container ship, Med Taipei, during a storm earlier that year, is filled with over one thousand steel-belted tires. It is not leaking, but any compounds released into the marine environment from the container as it degrades may affect the local ecology.

Sea life on a lost shipping container on deep seafloor (1260 meters depth) just outside Monterey Bay as it looked in 2013.

Together, MBNMS research coordinator Andrew DeVogelaere, MBARI scientist Jim Barry, and MBARI Postdoctoral fellow Josi Taylor assessed the potential ecological impacts of the container, supported by funds paid to NOAA by the shipping company. By comparing animal communities at distances radiating away from the container, the researchers determined that mild changes in sediment conditions and faunal abundance occurred very near the container. Although most animal species observed on the container are common on rock outcrops in the region, they are unusual in the vicinity of the container because rocky surfaces are fairly rare in the immediate area, where mud and sand are prevalent. Sediment-dwelling animals near the container either decreased or increased in abundance compared to areas 500 m from the container. These changes were thought to be related to changes in sediment grain size (coarser near the container) likely caused by winnowing as bottom currents accelerated around the container.

We performed a related experiment to assess the effects of natural rock surfaces (granite and sandstone) and painted steel container material on colonization by seafloor animals. Sets of ‘mini-containers’ with differing rock and paint types were deployed at a depth of 200 m for 2.5 years to allow colonization. They have been recovered, photographed, and sampled. Moss Landing Marine Laboratories student Sydney McDermott is currently analyzing colonization patterns on these mini-containers.

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Andrew DeVogelaere (NOAA), Josi Taylor, Sydney McDermott


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