Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have easy and fortunate access at zNano to the beautiful Monterey Bay and its eponymous Aquarium and Research Institute (MBARI), home to world-class science efforts to understand and reverse plastic pollution. Unfortunately, it turns out, that stunning Bay is not as pristine as it looks from shore.

A recent MBARI study found that microplastic debris pervades the water from surface to seabed and most likely is entering the food chain through marine life. Using underwater robots to sample seawater, scientists found extensive plastic pollution at every depth and in all animals sampled.

This is more than an aesthetic issue – it’s an important factor for human health and the world’s economies. More than three billion people worldwide rely on the oceans for their livelihoods, according to the international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Billions of people also rely on the oceans for food.

Plastic pollution is such an important economic and health concern that the World Economic Forum and World Resources Institute have convened Friends of Ocean Action, a group of more than 50 global leaders, to work with others on solutions.

Explaining how critical it is to find solutions, Angela Choy, the MBARI paper’s lead author, said,  “Our findings buttress a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the waters and animals of the deep sea, Earth’s largest habitat, as the biggest repository of small plastic debris.” Choy is an assistant professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

The research also “suggests that at least some of the microplastic was transported into the area by ocean currents,” said Kyle Van Houtan, chief scientist at Monterey Bay Aquarium and a study’s coauthor.  There are no physical borders in the oceans, and no one has yet explained how far and wide microplastics travel.

Although we don’t yet know how to remove plastic from the world’s oceans, we can at least do better by stopping the amount we’re throwing in – at personal, industrial and societal levels.