Effects of natural and anthropogenic processes in the distribution of marine litter in the deep Mediterranean Sea

Source: Progress in Oceanography

Authors: Eva Ramirez-Llodra, Ben De Mol, Joan B. Company, Marta Coll, Francesc Sardà. Institut de Ciències del Mar, Psg. Marítim de la Barceloneta, 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

Abstract

The distribution, type and quantity of marine litter accumulated on the bathyal and abyssal Mediterranean seafloor has been studied in the framework of the Spanish national projects PROMETEO and DOS MARES and the ESF-EuroDEEP project BIOFUN. Litter was collected with an otter trawl and Agassiz trawl while sampling for megafauna on the Blanes canyon and adjacent slope (Catalan margin, north-western Mediterranean) between 900 and 2700 m depth, and on the western, central and eastern Mediterranean basins at 1200, 2000 and 3000 m depth. All litter was sorted into 8 categories (hard plastic, soft plastic, glass, metal, clinker, fabric, longlines and fishing nets) and weighed. The distribution of litter was analysed in relation to depth, geographic area and natural (bathymetry, currents and rivers) and anthropogenic (population density and shipping routes) processes. The most abundant litter types were plastic, glass, metal and clinker. Lost or discarded fishing gear was also commonly found. On the Catalan margin, although the data indicated an accumulation of litter with increasing depth, mean weight was not significantly different between depths or between the open slope and the canyon. We propose that litter accumulated in the canyon, with high proportions of plastics, has predominantly a coastal origin, while litter collected on the open slope, dominated by heavy litter, is mostly ship-originated, especially at sites under major shipping routes. Along the trans-Mediterranean transect, although a higher amount of litter seemed to be found on the Western Mediterranean, differences of mean weight were not significant between the 3 geographic areas and the 3 depths. Here, the shallower sites, also closer to the coast, had a higher proportion of plastics than the deeper sites, which had a higher proportion of heavy litter and were often affected by shipping routes. The weight of litter was also compared to biomass of megafauna from the same samples. On the Blanes slope, the biomass of megafauna was significantly higher than the weight of litter between 900 and 2000 m depth and no significant differences were found at 2250 and 2700 m depth. Along the trans-Mediterranean transect, no significant differences were found between biomass and litter weight at all sites except in two sites: the Central Mediterranean at 1200 m depth, where biomass was higher than litter weight, and the Eastern Mediterranean at 1200 m depth, where litter weight was higher than biomass. The results are discussed in the framework of knowledge on marine litter accumulation, its potential impact on the habitat and fauna and the legislation addressing these issues.

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