Down at the bottom of the ocean, it's not just thermal vents and whale bones. There's a vast accumulation of bottles, plastic bags, and other human-generated rubbish – perhaps the world's largest hidden waste dump, drifting on the currents for a virtual eternity.
Getting a full picture of this Atlantis of waste has been difficult, due to the high cost and physical challenges of reaching the seafloor. But over the past 10 years a number of scientific institutions have worked together to investigate deep-marine garbage, and this week they finally published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE. After performing nearly 600 video and trawl surveys in European waters, they've come to the depressing conclusion that the trash is everywhere, from the deepest to shallowest points, to near-coast shelves and regions as remote as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone. Here's roughly where that is on Google Maps:
What's down there? The most prevalent kind of detritus the researchers found was plastic, which made up 41 percent of the litter they observed. That isn't exactly surprising given that there's plenty of plastic floating around above, too. Roughly a third of the other observed trash was abandoned fishing gear such as lines and nets, lethal stuff that continues to trap sea creatures and smother habitats long after it's lost overboard. There's also plenty of metal and glass debris as well as clothing and "clinker," the residue of burnt coal that steam ships dumped in past centuries.