Scientists who discovered a new marine animal, in one of the deepest places on Earth, were so concerned at finding plastic in its stomach they named it Eurythenes plasticus.
They chose this name to highlight that plastic pollution is now so prevalent that even a new species of amphipod living nearly 7 kilometres below sea level has ingested plastic.
A team from England’s Newcastle University, led by Dr Alan Jamieson, found the shrimp-like crustacean in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench between Japan and the Philippines and below the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Their research – which names the species – was supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and published today in the renowned scientific journal Zootaxa.
Dr Jamieson said they called the amphipod Eurythenes plasticus “because sadly that’s one of the most conspicuous things we found on the species, and I think we need to get that down in the taxonomic record.”
“We’re just making a statement to say that we’re now at the point where we are looking at a new species from an unexplored habitat and it’s already contaminated with plastic.
“We need to take immediate action to stop the deluge of plastic waste into our oceans,” he said.
PhD Student Johanna Weston, part of the research team, said they found a microfiber inside one of the four specimens of Eurythenes plasticus examined.
That microfibre was 83% similar to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic polymer used in water bottles and workout clothes.
“Finding a new species that we didn’t know was there before and finding plastic in it, just shows how widespread this is as a pollutant,” said Ms Weston.
“The new name really speaks to the fact that plastic pollution is everywhere. This new species gives a real name to people that they can connect with: The actions that I’m doing on land can impact this animal that’s living 6000 metres below sea level.”
Dr Jamieson said contaminants called persistent organic pollutants or POPs bind to plastic.
“Plastic in the sea collects these contaminants and ends up sinking, deep-sea animals eat it, and those contaminants leech into the animal, and we know these contaminants reduce reproductive success,” he said.
Katinka Day, No Plastic in Nature Policy Manager at WWF-Australia, said 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, with 53% originating from Southeast Asia.
Plastic waste exports from wealthy nations, including Australia, frequently end up in open air landfills in Southeast Asia and then wash into rivers and ultimately the ocean.
“Plastics are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and now in animals that live in one of the most remote places on earth,” said Ms Day.
“This is a global disaster that requires nations around the world to take collective action on both a national and international scale.”
In 2019, WWF launched a worldwide petition calling for a global, legally binding treaty to reduce plastic waste, improve waste management and end marine plastic pollution.
More than 1.6 million people have signed the petition.
“Australia must work with world leaders to create a legally binding international agreement to end marine plastic pollution,” said Ms Day.
To sign the petition go to www.wwf.org.au/get-involved/plastic-pollution/stop-plastic-pollution