Trash in the deep sea: Bringing a hidden problem to light

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Kyra Schlining, Linda Kuhnz, Nancy Jacobsen Stout, Susan von Thun, Brian Schlining, Lonny Lundsten, Judith Connor

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute


Trash in the sea is an increasing problem with a potential for negative impacts on marine life. Conducting research in the deep sea is challenging and expensive; therefore, little is known about the presence of litter in this vast habitat. The extreme depths to which human garbage can be found have recently been exposed. Scientists at MBARI carefully examined where trash was seen in 18,000 hours of video from remotely operated vehicles in Monterey Bay waters down to 4,000 m. The researchers categorized the trash, looked at patterns of distribution, and considered where it came from and how it got there. Most litter consisted of single use, recyclable items, such as plastic (33%) and metal (26%). Plastic and metal items were seen relatively more frequently in the deepest areas visited indicating that garbage on the seafloor may be greatly underestimated due to a lack of deepwater surveys.


Kyra Schlining, Susan von Thun, Linda Kuhnz, Brian Schlining, Lonny Lundsten, Nancy Jacobsen Stout, Lori Chaney, Judith Connor, Debris in the deep: Using a 22-year video annotation database to survey marine litter in Monterey Canyon, central California, USA, Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, Volume 79, September 2013, Pages 96-105, ISSN 0967-0637,

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By the Numbers

Over 40,000 students in 50 US states, the US Virgin Islands, and 25 countries participated as judges in the 2016 Ocean 180 Video Challenge.