Plastic waste in remote South Atlantic increases tenfold in a decade

The amount of plastic washing up on the shores of remote South Atlantic islands is 10 times greater than it was a decade ago, according to new research from the British Antarctic Survey.

Plastic on some South Atlantic beaches is approaching levels seen on industrialised North Atlantic coasts, following a tenfold increase in the waste washing up on these remote shores.

Scientists investigating plastics in the seas discovered waste is invading unique biologically-rich regions, including areas that are established or proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

During four research cruises between 2013 and 2018, the research team sampled the water surface, water column and seabed, surveyed beaches and examined over 2,000 animals, explained a statement.

The amount of plastic reaching these remote regions has increased at all levels. More than 90 per cent of beached debris was plastic, and the volume of this debris is the highest recorded in the last decade, it added.

Lead author David Barnes from the British Antarctic Survey commented: “Three decades ago these islands, which are some of the most remote on the planet, were near-pristine. Plastic waste has increased a hundred-fold in that time, it is now so common it reaches the seabed. We found it in plankton, throughout the food chain and up to top predators such as seabirds.”

Plastic causes problems including entanglement, poisoning and starving through ingestion, according to the statement.

Andy Schofield, RSPB biologist, added: “It is heart-breaking watching Albatrosses trying to eat plastic thousands of miles from anywhere. This is a very big wake up call. Inaction threatens not just endangered birds and whale sharks, but the ecosystems many islanders rely on for food supply and health.”

Photo credit: Ray Perezoso/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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