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Out of sight, out of mind?

Prof Paul Tyler MBE explains what happens to our rubbish in the deep-sea environment

Rubbish and litter strewn along beaches is unfortunately a common sight. The litter poll in the previous step is based on data from the Ocean Conservancy 2018 Cleanup Report.
In fact, cigarette butts were the most numerous with approximately 2,412,151 collected during the cleanup. However, this is rubbish collected from beaches and waterways. There are also types of pollutants which are finding their way into the deep ocean.

You may remember that in Week 2 Professor Mark Brandon talked about how the ocean currents can transport litter great distances around the globe, but our rubbish isn’t just moved around on the surface of the ocean. The deep sea is no longer a pristine environment untouched by the presence of humans, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. From clinker produced as waste by steam-powered ships in the 1800s, to modern day soft drink cans and plastics, the ocean floor has been affected by our garbage. There are also more unusual examples of rubbish ending up in the deep ocean, as Professor Paul Tyler MBE explains what happens to our rubbish in the video for this Step.

We’ve looked at some historical and modern impacts that we’ve had on the deep ocean. Now use some of the links below to read more about human impacts in the deep ocean, and share your response to the question below with other learners in the comments section.

In 2018 the Government’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee carried out an enquiry into Sustainable Seas, including plastics and other pollutants in the ocean. The report summarises a huge amount of evidence including evidence from our course lead Rachel Mills and Jon Copley.

Many organisations are prioritising tackling the global problem of marine litter, including Surfers Against Sewage who have produced a marine litter report

The Pew Foundation has documented the impact of plastics on the life in the oceans and this report shows us the gruesome impact of plastic debris on marine animals.

Here are some supplementary, more advanced readings if you would like to explore these topics in more depth:

A useful review of plastics in the marine environment

This paper demonstrates that the vast majority of microplastics in the oceans end up on the seafloor and are focussed by bottom currents into canyons and trenches – areas which are also hot spots for deep sea life.

Human impacts in the deep sea

What do you think is the most significant human impact in the deep ocean today?

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Exploring Our Ocean

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