Going deep: Plastics found 2,100m under the sea off Co Kerry coast

UCC researchers made discovery during study of Porcupine Bank Canyon in Atlantic Ocean

Researchers working off the Irish coast have found pieces of plastic waste at a depth of more than 2,100m along the base of the Atlantic Ocean.

University College Cork’s Marine Geology Research group found microplastics deposited around coral mounds at the bottom of a deep submarine canyon 320km off the coast of Dingle, Co Kerry. They spotted a white plastic sack at a depth of 2,125m.

The Porcupine Bank Canyon, which is deep enough to stack 10 Eiffel Towers on top of each other in, is rife with a host of cold water habitats, according to expedition lead Dr Aaron Lim.

He said microplastics, plastic fragments less than 5mm in length, have infiltrated the natural habitats and coral mounds, which have existed for millions of years.

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The discovery was made when the research group recovered eight monitoring stations, which had been deployed earlier in the summer at depths of between 700m and 2,500m.

Floating

Temperatures and the direction of the currents were recorded around these habitats, while the monitoring stations also trapped items floating in the water including the microplastics.

“It is always sad to see plastic rubbish in these otherwise pristine habitats,” said Prof Andy Wheeler of UCC. “It is quite incredible that our plastic waste can get this far out and deep in the oceans.”

Dr Wheeler, who has researched cold-water coral mounds off Ireland’s shores for more than two decades, said he suspects most people do not realise the impact that dumping their rubbish can have on the oceans.

The monitoring stations will continue to collect data along the canyon and other habitats for a number of years, so scientists can understand the changing of these habitats, as well as the volume and impact of microplastics. The technology will then be brought back to UCC for detailed analyses.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times