Greenpeace Finds Plastic Pollution in Remote Antarctic Waters


Published Jun 6, 2018 8:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

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.

Seven of the eight sea-surface water samples tested contained microplastic, such as microfibers. In addition, nine samples were taken using a manta trawl. Microplastic fragments were detected in two samples, and seven of the nine samples contained detectable concentrations of the persistent chemicals per- and polyfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFASs. These chemicals are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products and have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife. The chemicals were likely deposited from the atmosphere.

There have been few studies about microplastics in Antarctic waters, but plastic has now been found in all corners of the world's oceans, from the Antarctic to the Arctic and at the deepest point of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current acts as a natural barrier encircling Antarctica, with a minimal exchange of seawater from North to South. Considering the many uncertainties involved in such investigations, the findings suggest that the marine transport of microplastics is not completely restricted by this barrier.

“We need urgent action from corporations and governments to stop producing the single use plastic items which are flowing into our seas,” said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA. “We also need a network of fully protected ocean sanctuaries to increase the resiliency of marine ecosystems to the impacts of climate change, industrial fishing and plastic pollution.”

The samples were gathered during a three-month Greenpeace expedition to the Antarctic from January to March 2018. Greenpeace was 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 695,000 square miles, it would be five times the size of Germany and the largest protected area on Earth. The sanctuary is being proposed by the E.U. and a decision will be made at the forthcoming meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) in October.