Every year, we dump 8 million tons of plastic trash into the ocean. And because most of it floats, you might expect it to amass on or just beneath the water’s surface, similar to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. New research suggests that for more than 99% of plastic waste, this isn’t at all the case, The Guardian reports. Several recent studies have shown that much of this plastic ends up buried on the sea floor or suspended deep in the water column. This can happen when animals like red crabs and giant larvaceans eat it and poop it out in deeper water—or coat it in heavy mucus, making it sink to the sea floor. And even more frighteningly, researchers say, some plastic degrades into tiny particles smaller than a cell, called nanoplastics, which can accumulate in the tissues of fish and other organisms, sometimes causing neurological or reproductive issues.
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