Greenpeace researchers have discovered the presence of microplastic pollution in the majority of water and snow samples collected during a recent Antarctic expedition.
The particles, which are generated by the breakdown of man-made products, were found in nine of 17 water samples gathered during a research excursion to Earth’s southernmost continent from January to March this year.
Greenpeace was studying little-known Antarctic seabed ecosystems as part of a campaign to create an ocean sanctuary in the region. The sanctuary is being proposed by the EU and would cover 1.8 million square kilometres — an area more than five times the size of Germany.
“These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals,” says Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign.
“We need action at source, to stop these pollutants 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.”
Seven of the nine snow samples the researchers collected contained concentrations of chemicals known as per- and polyfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFASs. These pollutants are commonly used in industrial processes and consumer products, and have been linked to health issues in wildlife.
The decision to create the Antarctic Ocean protected zone will be taken at the next meeting of the EU’s Antarctic Ocean Commission in October.