Plastic and chemical pollution has been detected in most samples of snow and seawater taken by researchers in Antarctica, said the nongovernmental environmental group Greenpeace.
Greenpeace scientists gathered water and snow samples from the southernmost continent during a voyage from January to March of this year. Laboratory analysis revealed humanity’s footprint on this most remote corner of the globe.
"It was about one microplastic piece at least per liter. When you think of extrapolating that out to the scale of the Antarctic Ocean, it’s really, really significant. And previously we thought that the Antarctic Ocean might sort of be protected by the currents around it, as a sort of barrier to the plastic pollution that’s a scourge in so much of the world’s oceans. But now evidence is increasingly showing that that may not be the case," Greenpeace’s Louisa Casson said.
In addition to very small pieces of plastic, the research revealed the presence of chemicals known as per- and polyfluorinated alkylated substances, which are widely used in industrial processes and linked to reproductive and developmental problems for wildlife.
"This just strengthens the rationale for why we need to be taking action on land to stop that flow of plastic into the ocean, but also creating huge ocean sanctuaries at sea to allow wildlife to recover from these pressures," Casson said.
Tons of plastics
The United Nations estimates 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year. Its effects were illustrated several days ago in southern Thailand, where a stranded pilot whale died having ingested 80 pieces of plastic rubbish weighing 8 kilograms.
The tide may be slowly turning as global concern grows. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, recently pledged to ban all single-use plastic by 2022. In the shadow of megacity Mumbai, Bollywood movie stars have been joining litter pickup sessions at Versova beach, among them actress Abigail Pande.
"I am having fun [cleaning this place]. But it is also very sad because once I came here, I got to know that the amount of waste is so high that if you dig the ground 4 feet, you will still find plastic inside. And it will take years to properly clean the beach," Pande told reporters Sunday.
Plastic has now been found in every corner of the world’s oceans, from the depths of the Pacific Mariana Trench to Antarctica.
In October, world governments will decide on a European Union proposal to create an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. At 1.8 million square kilometers, it would be the largest protected area on Earth.