A piece of plastic has never been manufactured in Antarctica, but the snow and seas of the most remote continent in the world are now thoroughly contaminated with the stuff, according to a three-month analysis by the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace.
The organization analyzed snow, sea-surface, and ocean-floor samples and determined that the majority were contaminated in ways that pose a threat to wildlife in the region.
“These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals,” said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign in a statement.
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Among the chemicals found throughout the region were PFAs, widely used industrial compounds that have been shown to disrupt reproductive, developmental, and hormonal health in animals, according to Greenpeace.
The team of researchers also found levels of microplastics comparable to parts of the world with direct plastic pollution problems, suggesting that concentrations of microplastics are far more pervasive than previously thought. Microplastics have been shown to contain and attract hazardous chemicals and are inadvertently consumed in large quantities by marine creatures, potentially causing significant health problems, Greenpeace notes.
We need action at source, to stop these pollutants from ending up in the Antarctic in the first place.
A 2014 study estimates that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of microplastic in marine environments. By 2050, meanwhile, overall plastic is expected outweigh fish in the world’s oceans.
That’s because more than 8 million tons of plastic enter oceans each year, the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into waters every minute.
Greenpeace is campaigning to shield Antarctica from further pollution through the creation of two vast sanctuaries that would together account for the largest marine protected space in the world.
The nonprofit recently traveled throughout the region to conduct ecological surveys and raise awareness of the issues facing the region.
“We need a network of sanctuaries to protect biodiversity in the short term,” John Hocevar, Greenpeace oceans campaign director, told Global Citizen earlier this year.
“Then we have to be acting as quickly as possible to move away from reliance on fossil fuels, and shift to renewable energy sources like solar and wind,” he added. “We also need to stop using and producing single use plastics.”
Countries around the world are beginning to restrict the production of single-use plastics, ban microbeads, and invest in sustainable alternatives. A recent UN report found that more than 60 countries are fighting the prevalence of plastic.
But this action has to be greatly accelerated, according to Greenpeace.
“We need action at source, to stop these pollutants from ending up in the Antarctic in the first place, and we need an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary to give space for penguins, whales, and the entire ecosystem to recover from the pressures they’re facing,” Bengtsson said.
“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,” she added.
Global Citizen campaigns to end the production of single-use plastics and you can take action on this issue here.