BRISTOL, England, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A new study showcases the first direct evidence of microplastic consumption by deep-sea animals.
During a deep-sea expedition aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook, scientists from the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford found ingested microplastics in hermit crabs, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers collected from depths between approximately 985 and 4,500 feet.
Microplastics have been found previously at considerable ocean depths, but this is the first time the plastic debris has been found ingested by deep-sea dwellers.
"This result astonished me and is a real reminder that plastic pollution has truly reached the furthest ends of the Earth," Laura Robinson, a geochemist at Bristol, said in a news release.
Microplastic is categorized as any plastic particle smaller than 5 micrometers. Microbeads are one of the most well-known sources of microplastic pollution.
Many governments have begun banning the use of microplastics. The tiny particles are found in cosmetics and toothpaste and can leach into water sources when rinsed down the drains of sinks and showers. Microplastics can also leach from synthetic netting used in commercial fishing.
Scientists used precise forensic tests to verify the presence of microplastics in the intestines of the deep-sea animals. The analysis was published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
"The main purpose of this research expedition was to collect microplastics from sediments in the deep ocean -- and we found lots of them," said Michelle Taylor, a zoologist at Oxford. "What's particularly alarming is that these microplastics weren't found in coastal areas but in the deep ocean, thousands of miles away from land-based sources of pollution."