Scientists from the UK have made an astounding discovery – during an expedition, the team found plastic pollution on remote ice floes in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The findings once again underline how far plastic waste travels – bringing fears that new waste is making its way into the Arctic and pollution already long trapped in the ice is being released into the environment as climate change causes melting.
The team of scientists was led by marine biologist Tim Gordon of the University of Exeter and the research was carried out as part of polar explorer Pen Hadow’s Arctic Mission. The team was shocked to find a block of polystyrene in areas located many hundreds of miles from land and, until recently, covered by ice. According to the University of Exeter, two large pieces of the plastic were spotted on the edge of ice floes in the middle of the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean, within 1,000 miles of the North Pole.
Hadow stated that this was the first time he had seen blocks of this material on the Arctic sea ice. “For the 25 years I have been exploring the Arctic I have never seen such large and very visible items of rubbish,” he said. “The blocks of polystyrene were just sitting on top of the ice.”
“Finding pieces of rubbish like this is a worrying sign that melting ice may be allowing high levels of pollution to drift into these areas,” added Gordon. He added that this finding was potentially very dangerous for the wildlife in the Arctic.
The researchers will now test collected samples of Arctic seawater for microplastics. The team will evaluate whether microscopic plastic particles are being released from the thawing ice and measure the extent of plastic pollution in the ocean.
The team also pointed to the changes that the Arctic Ocean and its animals are going to face due to climate change. “The Arctic Ocean’s wildlife used to be protected by a layer of sea ice all year round,” Gordon said. “Now that is melting away, this environment will be exposed to commercial fishing, shipping, and industry for the first time in history. We need to seriously consider how best to protect the Arctic’s animals from these new threats. By doing so, we will give them a fighting chance of adapting and responding to their rapidly-changing habitat.”
Every year, we produce around 300 million tons of plastic and around 8.8 million tons of it end up in the oceans, threatening and killing marine wildlife and polluting the waters. If we hope to stave off the worst case scenario for both people and marine animals alike, we would be wise to start cutting down on plastic use in any way we can.
To learn how to use less plastic in your everyday life, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!
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