300bn plas­tic pieces from Europe and the US pol­lut­ing Arc­tic wa­ters

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Colin Fer­nan­dez

HUNDREDS of bil­lions of pieces of plas­tic are pol­lut­ing the once-pris­tine wa­ters of the Arc­tic, a study has found.

Rub­bish from Europe and the US is be­ing swept north by ocean cur­rents, the sci­en­tists said.

Lev­els of plas­tic found east of Green­land and in the Bar­ents Sea off Nor­way and Rus­sia were far higher than ex­pected for the sparsely pop­u­lated re­gions.

The re­searchers gave a ‘mid-range’ es­ti­mate that there are around 300bil­lion pieces of plas­tic float­ing in the ice-free wa­ters of the Arc­tic Ocean, weigh­ing in to­tal up to 1,200 tons.

And large amounts of waste could al­ready have sunk to the ocean floor. They warned the pol­lu­tion could harm frag­ile Arc­tic wildlife, as an­i­mals can mis­take plas­tic for food and choke when they try to eat it. North­ern ful­mar birds on the Arc­tic Sval­bard is­lands north of Nor­way, for in­stance, have been found with high lev­els of plas­tic in their stom­achs from dis­carded plas­tic bags, fishing nets and other trash.

Plas­tic waste can also con­tain chem­i­cals that can poi­son marine life.

The in­ter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists said the north-eastern sec­tion of the Arc­tic Ocean ‘ap­peared as a dead end for the trans­port of plas­tic pol­lu­tion’.

Hundreds of thou­sands of mostly tiny bits of plas­tic were found per square mile in that part of the ocean in the sur­vey by the Tara Oceans cir­cum­po­lar ex­pe­di­tion, which trawled 42 Arc­tic sites with nets in 2013. Much of the plas­tic was ap­par­ently old and had floated north from Europe and North Amer­ica. Lev­els were com­pa­ra­ble to those in ocean gyres, which are vast swirling cur­rents where plas­tic de­bris is known to ac­cu­mu­late, the re­searchers wrote in the jour­nal Science Ad­vances.

Lead au­thor An­dres Cozar, an ecol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Cadiz in Spain, said ‘99% of the float­ing plas­tic in the Arc­tic was con­fined in the Green­land and Bar­ents seas’ and that ‘plas­tic pol­lu­tion in the rest of the Arc­tic Cir­cle was low or ab­sent’.

How­ever, global warm­ing could open up the Arc­tic to more pol­lu­tion, partly as sea ice shrinks, the team warned.

The study added: ‘High loads of marine plas­tic pol­lu­tion may be­come preva­lent in the Arc­tic in the fu­ture.’

Sep­a­rately, the Arc­tic Mon­i­tor­ing and As­sess­ment Pro­gramme, which was not in­volved in the re­port, is ex­am­in­ing wider pol­lu­tion risks from plas­tics.

Lars-Otto Reiersen, ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the AMAP, said: ‘We’re look­ing to see how big the prob­lem is for the Arc­tic – both the phys­i­cal plas­tic and the chem­i­cals at­tached to the sur­face.’

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