Australian research uncovers high rate of plastic seafloor pollution

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-13 12:16:29|Editor: ying
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MELBOURNE, July 13 (Xinhua) -- High concentration of seafloor pollution could "contaminate the entire food chain" in Australia, according to a study published on Thursday.

Researchers from the University of Tasmania (UTAS), led by Scott Ling, found that the seafloor along the coast of Australia has a high rate of microplastics within the sediment.

The team from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at UTAS used a sediment grab to sample seafloor sediments from 42 sites off the coast of Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales (NSW) and South Australia from September 2015 to November 2015.

They found that even in seafloor sediments collected near rural areas the rate of pollution was high.

"We were surprised by both the quantity of microplastics we found in marine sediments and their wide dispersal everywhere we looked along the South East Australian coast," Ling said in a media release on Thursday.

"Our study took samples of marine sediments from depths between five and 13 meters at sites close to the major population centers as well as remote sites on the NSW South Coast and Tasmania's East Coast.

"While we expected to find high levels of pollution close to the major capitals, we did not expect to find similar concentrations far from urban centers."

He told Xinhua that the study indicated that seafloor pollution could be as harmful to marine life as pollution on the surface of the ocean and on beaches.

"In other studies it is estimated that 70 percent of marine litter is expected to sink to the seafloor and enter marine sediments," Ling said.

"But while the huge volume of plastic debris accumulating in the world's oceans and on beaches has received global attention, the amount of plastic accumulating on the seafloor is relatively unknown."

The highest rate of pollution discovered was in sediment collected near the rural town of Bicheno on Tasmania's east coast, measuring at 12 microplastic filaments per milliliter of sediment.

Ling said that the team was expecting a higher concentration near urban centers because most of the filaments were produced by household washing machines.

"The dominance and ubiquity of microplastic filaments appears due to their low weight and greater potential for long-distance oceanic transportation than for heavier plastic particles," he said.

"Thus dispersal mechanisms, particularly for microplastic filaments, appears different to dispersal mechanisms of other pollutant types."