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Lost at sea: Researching the impact of sunken shipping containers

Thousands of shipping containers are lost from cargo ships every year, eventually falling to the ocean floor and disturbing the deep-sea ecosystems where they land. In February 2004, a container was discovered within the boundaries of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, off the California coast, providing a rare opportunity for long-term study. Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) would finally have a chance to learn how marine life adjusts around these intrusive man-made objects.

After seven years, in March 2011, deep-sea robots collected data, samples, and video from 1,300 meters (4,200 feet) under the water’s surface. The results were published in May 2014. From MBARI.org

Overall, the paper shows that the container caused shifts in animal communities through a variety of processes. Its physical presence provided: 1) a hard surface that sessile (attached) animals colonized; 2) a physical obstacle that affected local bottom currents, 3) a high spot on the seafloor that attracted predators, and 4) a possible source of toxic materials…

This collaborative research project has already helped government agencies in formulating standards for how containers are weighed, stacked, and lashed down. It has also spurred interest from both governmental agencies and the shipping industry in finding a way to track the number of containers lost at sea each year. 

You can read more about the findings here.

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In the archives, watch more videos about the sea pig, about ecology, and from MBARI: this incredible vampire squid turns itself inside out and There’s No Such Thing as a Jellyfish

From Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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