The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Plastic Pollution in Antarctica 5 Times Worse Than Expected
Scientists from the University of Hull and the British Antarctic Survey have determined that the levels of microplastics are five times higher than previous estimates. The results were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
These tiny beads of plastic come from cosmetics or shred off of larger plastic items such as clothing or bottles. Research shows that microplastics can turn up in ice cores, across the seafloor, throughout the ocean and on every beach worldwide. According to UN News, "as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles—500 times more than stars in our galaxy—litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife."
Microplastics enter the oceans via wastewater. However, as the researchers report, more than half of the research stations in the Antarctic have no wastewater treatment systems. The scientists suggest that the plastic may be getting across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which was thought to be nearly impenetrable.
"Antarctica is thought to be a highly isolated, pristine wilderness. The ecosystem is very fragile with whales, seals and penguins consuming krill and other zooplankton as a major component of their diet," said the study's lead author, Dr. Catherine Waller, an expert in ecology and marine biology at University of Hull.
"Our research highlights the urgent need for a co-ordinated effort to monitor and assess the levels of microplastics around the Antarctic continent and Southern Ocean."
A press release notes that the Southern Ocean, which covers approximately 8.5 million square miles and represents 5.4 percent of the world's oceans, is under increasing threat from fishing, pollution and the introduction of non-native species. Climate change, which leads to rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, is also a threat.
The effects of microplastics on marine life in this region are currently unclear.
"We have monitored the presence of large plastic items in Antarctica for over 30 years. While we know that bigger pieces of plastic can be ingested by seabirds or cause entanglements in seals, the effects of microplastics on marine animals in the Southern Ocean are as yet unknown," biologist Dr. Claire Waluda, a co-author at British Antarctic Survey, said.
"This paper represents an excellent first step towards recognizing the presence of microplastics in Antarctica and allows us to call for international effort in monitoring the situation whilst it is still in its earliest stages."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Judge Blocks Oil and Gas Drilling on 300,000 Acres in Wyoming Until Government Considers Climate Impacts
Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.