The world produces an estimated 10 tons of plastic a second, and between 5 million and 14 million tons sweep into the oceans every year. Some of that debris washes up on beaches, even on the world’s most isolated islands. About 5 trillion pieces currently float in surface waters, mostly in the form of tiny, easy-to-swallow fragments that have ended up in the gut of albatrosses, sea turtles, plankton, fish, and whales. But those pieces also sink, snowing into the deep sea and upon the amphipods that live there.
Brooks eventually found plastic fibers and fragments in 72 percent of the amphipods that the team collected, from all six trenches that they had surveyed. In the least polluted of these sites, half of the amphipods had swallowed at least one piece of plastic. In the 6.8-mile-deep Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, all of the specimens had plastic in their gut.