Scientists discovered a new species of marine creature in the deepest undersea trench on Earth — and it has plastic in its body due to global pollution.
Plastic pollution in the Mariana Trench
The team of scientists from Newcastle University in the U.K. discovered the marine creature — a crustacean called an amphipod (conventionally referenced "hoppers") — deep in the Mariana Trench, at a depth of roughly 6,000 meters (20,000 feet), according to recent research from the journal Zootaxa.
The Mariana Trench is 2,542 kilometers (1,580 miles) long, and sinks into the western Pacific Ocean at a maximum depth of roughly 11,000 meters (36,000 feet). But even animals that live in such extreme and ostensibly remote areas of the world are affected by plastic pollution.
Inside the body of the previously unknown amphipod, the researchers found little pieces of plastic debris, called microplastics. The material was identified as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — a kind of plastic used broadly, in both drink and food packaging.
Consequently, the team at Newcastle decided to call the species Eurythenes plasticus, to forever remind the world about the grim state of the global environment from the effects of pollution — should the world community take action, which needs to be taken to "stop the deluge of plastic waste into our oceans," said Marine Ecologist and Lead Author of the study Alan Jamieson, in a statement, reports Newsweek.
"We have new species turning up that are already contaminated and so we have missed the window to understand these species in a natural environment," said Jamieson to Newsweek. "[This discovery] exemplifies the extent of the plastic problem. Species in remote and extreme marine environments are suffering as a result of human activity. Any detrimental effects on large populations are hard to grasp in new species as we didn't know what these populations were like prior to contamination," he added, reports Newsweek.
Plastic debris is now found throughout all the world's oceans. A 2015 study showed that roughly 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every single year, according to Newsweek. Once the material enters the water, it begins to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics — and subsequently eaten by animals of the deep dark marine, like Eurythenes Plasticus.
"Having indigestible fragments in its guys can lead to blockage, less room for food, and the absorption of nastier chemicals like PCBs which bind to plastic in water," said Jamieson, to Newsweek.
The Vice President of Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Lauren Spurrier — who was not involved in the paper (although WWF gave support to the research) — said the decision to name this newly-found species of the deepest, most remote environments on Earth Eurythenes plasticus was a "bold and necessary move," according to Newsweek.
"There can be no disputing the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our environment and its impact on nature," she said to Newsweek, via a statement. "We now are seeing even more devastating impacts of plastic pollution, in that it is infecting species science is only just now discovering. While the official existence of plastics in the taxonomic record is a stark concept, this discovery should mobilize us all to take immediate strong action against the global pollutant."
Director of the Marine Programme at WWF Germany Heike Vesper said of plastic pollution — and the discovery — in a statement: "Plastics are in the air that we breathe, in the water that we drink and now also in animals that live far away from human civilization."