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Antarctica: how plastic pollution drowns the last corner of the Earth

Antarctica: how plastic pollution drowns the last corner of the Earth

Traces of microplastics and hazardous chemical contamination found in most snow and ice samples taken earlier this year

According to a new study, plastics and traces of dangerous chemicals have been found in Antarctica, one of the last great wilderness areas in the world.

The researchers spent three months taking water and snow samples from remote areas of the continent earlier this year.

These have now been analyzed and researchers have confirmed that most contained "persistent dangerous chemicals" or microplastics.

The findings come amid growing concern over the extent of the plastic pollution crisis that scientists have warned of the risks of "permanent contamination" of the planet.

Earlier this week, the UN warned that it is one of the world's biggest environmental threats, saying that even though 60 countries were taking urgent action, more needed to be done.

The new report from Greenpeace researchers is part of a global campaign to create the world's largest marine sanctuary in the seas around Antarctica to protect the fragile ecosystem from industrial fishing and climate change.

Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace's Protect Antarctica campaign said the findings showed that even the most remote areas of the planet were not immune to the impact of man-made pollution.

"We need action at the source, to prevent these pollutants from ending up in Antarctica in the first place, and we need an Antarctic marine sanctuary to give penguins, whales and the entire ecosystem space to recover from the pressures they are facing." she said.

Seven of the eight sea surface water samples tested contained microplastics such as microfibers. Seven of the nine snow samples analyzed contained detectable concentrations of persistent hazardous chemicals: polyfluorinated alkylated substances or PFAS.

The researchers said the chemicals are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products and have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems in wildlife. They said the collected snow samples included freshly fallen snow, suggesting the dangerous chemicals came from contaminated rain or snowfall.

Professor Alex Rogers, a specialist in sustainable oceans at Oxford University's Oxford Martin School, said the discovery of plastics and chemicals in Antarctica confirmed that man-made pollutants now affect ecosystems in every corner of the world.
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And he warned that the consequences of this widespread contamination remained largely unknown.

“The big question now is what are the real consequences of finding this here? Many of these chemicals are quite nasty, and as they move up the food chain, they can be having serious health consequences for wildlife, and ultimately humans. The effects of microplastics on marine life, likewise, are largely not understood, "he said.

There is relatively little data on the extent of microplastics in Antarctic waters, and the researchers said they hoped this new study would lead to a greater understanding of the global extent of plastic and chemical pollutants.

Bengtsson said: “Now plastic has been found in every corner of our oceans, from Antarctica to the Arctic and at the deepest point in 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, such as a large marine sanctuary in the Antarctic that more than 1.6 million people are calling for, to protect marine life and our oceans for future generations. ".

The samples were collected during a three-month Greenpeace expedition to Antarctica from January to March 2018. The Guardian joined the trip for two weeks in February.

At the next meeting of the Southern Ocean Commission in Tasmania in October, a decision will be made on the sanctuary proposal, presented by the EU and endorsed by environmental campaign groups from around the world.

Video: How Antarcticas tourist boom could affect Earths last great wilderness (October 2020).