Photo/IllutrationA sea anemone sprouts from a plastic bag 910 meters below the surface in the Sea of Japan. (Provided by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

The pervasive problem of marine plastic pollution has been highlighted by the discovery of pieces of a plastic bag at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth.

The world's oceans, from the shallowest waters to the greatest depths, are wallowing in plastic debris, which threatens to play havoc with the marine ecosystem, researchers say.

Scientists from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the United Nations Environment Program and other organizations were startled by the discovery of plastic fragments 10,898 meters below the surface in the Pacific Ocean.

“There is an urgent need to establish observation methods, create an international monitoring network and take effective countermeasures to deal with plastic pollution,” said Sanae Chiba, a senior scientist at JAMSTEC’s Research and Development Center for Global Change.

JAMSTEC created a database of photos and video footage showing plastics and metal fragments, as well as other types of debris, taken by the Shinkai 6500 manned research submersible and other devices.

Based on the database, the team analyzed data from submersible surveys carried out on 5,010 occasions between 1982 and 2015 in the Pacific and elsewhere.

Of the 3,425 pieces of debris identified, one-third were plastics. Fragments of plastic products accounted for more than half of all kinds of debris in waters 6,000 meters below the surface or deeper.

Ninety percent of the debris derived from disposable products, such as bags and bottles, the researchers said.