The environmental advocacy group Greenpeace warned Thursday that plastic waste and toxic chemicals have been found in the most remote parts of Antarctica, suggesting that global pollution has reached a distressing new tipping point . Out of 17 water samples Greenpeace took from near Antarctica earlier this year, nine were found to contain microplastics, generated from the disintegration of plastic products, according to Reuters.
Of nine snow samples from the Antarctic continent itself, seven contained chemicals called polyfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAs), that can hurt wildlife.
According to Frida Bengtsson, of the group’s Protect the Antarctic campaign:
“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. These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals.”
The UN environmental agency also has said that plastic pollution has been found in both the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. And on Tuesday, it said only one tenth of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. They also recommended that governments ban single-use plastic bags and other plastic containers to combat the problem.
In 2017, researchers with University of Hull and the British Antarctic Survey detected levels of microplastics five times what would have been expected just from local ships and research stations, indicating that plastic pollution is making it across the vast Southern Ocean. Researchers are unsure of how this will impact wildlife in these areas.
Meanwhile, German researchers said in April that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean also contains high levels of plastic waste. If that weren’t bad enough in itself, they warn that it could be released as ice melts in response to the rising temperatures of climate change.
“Buoys, nets and tarpaulins drifted in between icebergs, which was really sad to see. We took them out of the water, but it really made clear to me how we need to put vast parts of this area off-limits to human activity if we’re going to protect the Antarctic’s incredible wildlife,” according to Bengtsson. She also noted:
“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 pressure they’re facing.”