In the latest depressing news about how we humans are destroying nature, Greenpeace reports that it discovered plastic pollution and hazardous chemicals during a recent expedition to the Antarctic. Laboratory analysis of water and snow samples has revealed the presence of microplastics and persistent chemicals.
“We may think of the Antarctic as a remote and pristine wilderness. But from pollution and climate change to industrial krill fishing, humanity’s footprint is clear,” said Frida Bengtsson, who is in charge of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign.
“These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals. We need to stop these pollutants ending up in the Antarctic in the first place. We need an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary to give space for penguins, whales and the entire ecosystem to recover from the pressures they’re facing.”
The samples were gathered during a three-month Greenpeace expedition to the Antarctic from January to March. Seven of the eight sea-surface water samples tested contained microplastic.
In addition, nine samples were taken using a manta trawl and analysed for microplastics. Microplastic fragments were detected in two samples. Seven of the nine snow samples tested contained detectable concentrations of the persistent chemicals per- and polyfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFASs, which are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products and have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife.
The snow samples gathered included freshly fallen snow, suggesting the hazardous chemicals were deposited from the atmosphere. There are relatively few data for microplastics in Antarctic waters, and this analysis provides valuable new information on the presence and status of such contamination in the region.
“We saw all kinds of waste from the fishing industry down in the Antarctic,” Bengtsson continued. “Buoys, nets and tarpaulins drifted in between icebergs, which was really sad to see. We took them out of the water, but it really made clear to me how we need to put vast parts of this area off-limits to human activity if we’re going to protect the Antarctic’s incredible wildlife.”
“Plastic has now been found in all corners of oceans, from the Antarctic to the Arctic and at the deepest point of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. We need urgent action to reduce the flow of plastic into our seas and we need large scale marine reserves – like a huge Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary which over 1.6 million people are calling for – to protect marine life and our oceans for future generations.”
Greenpeace is conducting scientific research, including landmark submarine dives to little-known Antarctic seabed ecosystems, as part of a campaign to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.
At 1.8 million square kilometres, it would be five times the size of Germany and the largest protected area on Earth. The sanctuary is being proposed by the EU and a decision will be taken at the forthcoming meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) in October.