Marine litter in submarine canyons of the Bay of Biscay

Marine litter is a matter of increasing concern worldwide, from shallow seas to the open ocean and from beaches to the deep-seafloor. Indeed, the deep sea may be the ultimate repository of a large proportion of litter in the ocean. We used footage acquired with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and a towed camera to investigate the distribution and composition of litter in the submarine canyons of the Bay of Biscay. This bay contains many submarine canyons housing Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) such as scleractinian coral habitats. VMEs are considered to be important for fish and they increase the local biodiversity. The objectives of the study were to investigate and discuss: i) litter density, ii) the principal sources of litter, iii) the influence of environmental factors on the distribution of litter, and iv) the impact of litter on benthic communities. Litter was found in all 15 canyons and at three sites on the edge of the continental shelf/canyon, in 25 of 29 dives. The Belle-île and Arcachon Canyons contained the largest amounts of litter, up to 12.6 and 9.5 items 100 images−1 respectively. Plastic items were the most abundant (42%), followed by fishing-related items (16%). The litter had both a maritime and a terrestrial origin. The main sources could be linked to fishing activities, major shipping lanes and river discharges. Litter appeared to accumulate at water depths of 801–1100 m and 1401–1700 m. In the deeper of these two depth ranges, litter accumulated on a geologically structured area, accounting for its high frequency at this depth. A larger number of images taken in areas of coral in the shallower of these two depth ranges may account for the high frequency of litter detection at this depth. A larger number of litter items, including plastic objects in particular, were observed on geological structures and in coral areas than on areas of bare substratum. The distribution of fishing-related items was similar for the various types of relief. Litter items were mostly colonised by scleractinian corals and hydroids. Several fish species and a lithodid crab seemed to associate with the accumulated litter. This extensive study showed litter to be widely distributed in the submarine canyons of the Bay of Biscay. These findings increase our understanding of the distribution of litter, its composition and accumulation and its impact on benthic communities.


Litter, Anthropogenic impact, Canyons, Deep Sea, Bay of Biscay, ROV, Towed camera

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Van den Beld Inge, Guillaumont Brigitte, Menot Lenaick, Bayle Christophe, Arnaud-Haond Sophie, Bourillet Jean-Francois (2017). Marine litter in submarine canyons of the Bay of Biscay. Deep-sea Research Part Ii-topical Studies In Oceanography. 145. 142-152.,

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