Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Plastic waste in Antarctica reveals increasing global pollution: Greenpeace

Plastic waste in Antarctica reveals increasing global pollution: Greenpeace

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

Since microplastics - tiny particles of broken-down plastic - are showing up in every remote corner of the globe, Greenpeace researchers headed to Antarctica to see if the problem was occurring there too.

Laboratory analysis of water and snow samples, gathered during a recent Greenpeace expedition to the Antarctic, has revealed the presence of microplastics and persistent chemicals, respectively, in the majority of samples tested.

"We may think of the Antarctic as a remote and pristine wilderness", Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace's Protect the Antarctic campaign said in a statement about the findings. "We need to defend the Antarctic by supporting the call for the world's largest ocean sanctuary, and by having a strategic vision to end the flow of single-use plastic on land", she says.

A plastic bag was found on the ocean floor in the Mariana Trench nearly 11km below the sea surface.

Greenpeace researchers also looked at the snow-among the nine samples collected, seven contained polyfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFAs, which people use to make cookware and pizza boxes.

Microplastics - tiny bits of plastic from the breakdown of everything from shopping bags to vehicle tires - were detected in nine of 17 water samples collected off the Antarctic peninsula by a Greenpeace vessel in early 2018, it said.

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Researchers said the chemicals are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products and have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife.

Microplastics are defined as small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in diameter.

The research also found plastic waste from the fishing industry in the Antarctic, including buoys, nets and tarpaulins drifted in between icebergs. The snow samples gathered included freshly-fallen snow, suggesting the hazardous chemicals were deposited from the atmosphere.

A decision on the sanctuary proposal, which is being put forward by the European Union and supported by environmental campaign groups around the world, will be taken at the forthcoming meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission in Tasmania in October.

Apart from visiting explorers like Shackleton and Scott and a handful of research scientists collecting valuable data, Antarctica has managed to avoid a great deal of human activity faced by the rest of the world. Primary microplastics, like plastic microbeads, are directly manufactured.

To help tackle the problem, Greenpeace is campaigning for an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary, which would span 1,800 square kilometers (695,000 square miles) and be the biggest protected area on the planet.

Our snow sampling and water trawling were an important part of the science work that Greenpeace carried out during our three month expedition in the Antarctic. We took these items out of the water when we came across them.

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