Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have discovered that microplastics have found their way into the ocean floor of the Great Australian Bight; one of Australia’s most precious and pristine marine environments.
Dr. Denise Hardesty, one of the principal research scientists at CSIRO, believes the discovery should act as a wakeup call for the Australian government to prioritize legislation that strongly incentivizes companies to address the growing problem of microplastics in deep ocean waters:
“This points to just how ubiquitous plastics are in our environment. Even in deep sea sediments around Australia, that’s a developed country, we still find plastic, anthropogenic waste, from the bottom of the ocean to the surface.
“Wherever you are, the organisms passing through those areas will have come in contact with it. Whether it was a fishing line or a plastic bag that’s broken down into thousands of tiny pieces.”
Last year, CSIRO scientists likewise found microplastics in samples taken from the Derwent river which is located in Tasmania. Mussels that were extracted from the river were also found to have consumed the microplastics.
Dr. Jennifer Lavers from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania shared her opinion that Australians should be concerned that microplastics have found their way to the Great Australian Bight:
“Should it worry us? Absolutely. The smaller the pieces, the more species there are to consume it.
“Everything that is tiny at the base of the food web so it’s not an issue of just an albatross swallowing a cigarette lighter or a sperm whale swallowing big chunks of net. You now have literally microplastics being eaten by corals, sea cucumbers, clams and mussels, and zoo plankton at the very base of the food web. You have all levels of the food web infiltrated with this stuff. It’s everywhere and where the plastic goes, the chemicals follow.”
Jason Tanner, a marine biologist for the South Australia Research and Development Institute led the research on biodiversity in the Great Australian Bight:
“There’s quite a diverse fauna down there; filter feeders, soft corrals, sponges and lots of more mobile organisms, starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins and of course, fish. We found almost 300 new species from our sampling.”
South Australia introduced legislation in 1977 that would provide cash as incentives for returning recyclable plastics. The government also banned the use of plastic bags in 2009.
However, Tanner said that they still brought up human garbage such as soft drink cans, pieces of clothing and plastics during the sampling.