Plastic waste in Antarctica reveals scale of global pollution :Greenpeace

Christopher Davidson
June 9, 2018

Microplastics and chemicals used in a range of household goods have found their way to Antarctica's pristine waters and ice caps, research shows.

"These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals".

Frida Bengtsson, of Greenpeace's Protect the Antarctic campaign, said the findings proved that even the most remote areas of the planet were not immune from the impact of man-made pollution.

Plastic has been found in water and snow samples from remote areas of Antarctica, a wilderness until now thought to be largely untouched by man.

Seven of the eight surface samples contained microplastics, as did two of the nine other samples.

Greenpeace New Zealand oceans campaigner, Emily Hunter, says it's painful to realise that plastic and chemical pollution has now made its way to the pristine wilderness of Antarctica. When Greenpeace set sail to the Antarctic earlier this year, we were going to look for the incredible wildlife - tottering penguins, majestic whales, soaring seabirds - that call the Antarctic Ocean home.

The United Nations' environment agency says plastic pollution has been detected from the Arctic to Antarctica and in remote places including the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world's oceans in the Pacific. PFASs are used in a number of industrial and consumer products - from non-stick frying pans to firefighting foams - and have previously been connected to developmental and reproductive issues in wildlife.

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Of the nine snow samples, seven had detectable concentrations of persistent chemicals known as PFAs or PFCs.

The research also found plastic waste from the fishing industry in the Antarctic, including buoys, nets and tarpaulins drifted in between icebergs.

While larger pieces of plastic rubbish are more visible, microplastics are a growing concern.

Our analysis provides valuable new information to deepen our understanding about the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans - and emphasises why we need urgent action to tackle the problem at source, in order to protect our oceans and marine life. The sanctuary is being proposed by the European Union and a decision will be taken at the forthcoming meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) in October 2018. Primary microplastics, like plastic microbeads, are directly manufactured. Greenpeace was conducting scientific research, including landmark submarine dives to little-known Antarctic seabed ecosystems, as part of a campaign to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.

The water samples were gathered during a three-month expedition to the Antarctic from January to March 2018.

With little data available on the presence of microplastics in the Antarctic, researchers said the findings suggested that the continent's natural barrier to seawater flowing from the north - the Antarctica circumpolar current - was being breached by the small particles. We took these items out of the water when we came across them.

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