Sea debris: shipping containers and marine life

Approximately 10,000 shipping containers tumble off into the sea every year, bobbing around for a bit before, in most cases, sinking into the deep ocean.  To discover what happens to these containers after reaching the seafloor and what potential effects these abrupt structures may have on marine communities, the Monterey Bay Research Institute is teaming up with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to investigate the biological community found on a shipping container offshore of California.  The benthos in much of the deep-sea, including the vast abyssal plains, is primarily composed of sediment.  These containers could suddenly provide hard substrate in an environment that usually lacks it, altering the habitat’s physical characteristics and possibly changing the suite or abundance of species present.  Researchers will be using a remotely-operated vehicle to compare sites at different distances from the shipping container, which is under about 1,300 meters of seawater.

Fittingly, the funding for these research cruises came from a settlement between  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the shipping company whose vessel lost this specific container and 14 others in 2004.  The discovery of this container (chock-full of 1,159 steel-belted tires) lends an important opportunity to study the impacts of this global issue.

Read the MBARI press release here (via Ed Yong on Twitter).

Image: runner310 on Flickr (cc)

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