Plastics on seabeds will remain intact for "centuries". | Oceana


The marine conservation organisation Oceana has published a report into the "disastrous effects" of plastics on seabeds in Europe and the Mediterranean. Images gathered during surveys of seabeds indicate that plastic waste which accumulates on the surface of seas and on beaches represents only one per cent of all the plastic that is dumped into seas and oceans. The remaining 99%, Oceana states, ends up on seabeds and thus endangers areas of great biological value.

Natividad Sánchez, the director of the Oceana Plastics campaign in Europe, says that the organisation's surveys "aim to raise awareness of the invisible reality". Measures such as beach cleaning and waste collection from the surfaces of seas are very necessary, but they are "totally insufficient if we want to tackle the root problem of plastics in the oceans". She stresses that "it is essential that the manufacture of single-use plastics is reduced and that legislation eliminates the most damaging ones".

Seabeds have high levels of biodiversity. They are "strategic" feeding and reproduction areas for species such as sharks, corals and cetaceans, e.g. whales. However, a combination of currents and underwater orography (with mountains and canyons for instance) means that large "dumps" of plastic waste form in the depths. Because of low temperatures and lack of light, this waste degrades far more slowly than on land or on the surfaces of seas. Plastics could remain intact for centuries.

Ricardo Aguilar, the director of Oceana Expeditions in Europe, describes seabeds as "the great forgotten" in the management of oceans. "Over just a few years, oases of life, such as escarpments and canyons, have been turned into landfill." The Mediterranean, as it is a semi-closed sea, is "very worrying" because of human pressure and the great depths.

Oceana is therefore proposing recommendations which go beyond the provisions of a 2019 European Directive, which is due to come into force next year. These include a ban on the plastic rings for the packaging of drinks. These are the rings which hold drinks' cans together. For many species, they are the main cause of death due to plastic ingestion. Other recommendations cover, for example, a tax on single-use plastics and an investigation into procedures for removing plastics without harming fragile species.