Toxic microplastic hotspots are accumulating on the ocean floor in record levels

Scientists from the U.K. have discovered the highest level of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor, with up to 1.9 million pieces of plastic covering just one square meter at the bottom of the ocean.

The harmful plastic debris has been pulled down by powerful deep-sea currents that transport and concentrate the pollutants within huge sediment accumulations, which researchers coined microplastic hotspots.

The hotspots are a deep-sea equivalent of so-called garbage patches created by currents on the ocean’s surface.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ocean ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found in the deep-seafloor,” said Ian Kane, a researcher at the University of Manchester and a co-author of the study published in the journal Science.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic waste that measure less than five millimeters long, or often much smaller, and are deemed invisible water pollutants. Toxic chemicals from microplastics have been found to hurt animals such as insects and marine species by blocking their digestive systems.

The tiny plastics come from sources such as textiles and clothing as well as items such as plastic bottles that break down into smaller pieces over time. The waste is not filtered out in domestic wastewater treatment plants in cities and farms, and as a result it runs right into rivers and oceans.

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