Microplastics found in Antarctica, Greenpeace reveals

‘We need urgent action’ Greenpeace uncovers microplastics in Antarctica, proving human pollution now infects the most remote places on Earth

  • Greenpeace found small traces of plastic in almost all of its sea water samples
  • Man-made chemicals were also detected in freshly-fallen snow
  • Greenpeace has called for a huge sanctuary to be established to protect wildlife 
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Plastic pollution now affects one of the most remote places on Earth, researchers have claimed after microplastics were discovered in the Antarctic tundra. 

Greenpeace activists made the discovery during a three-month study of the desolate region around the South Pole.

Traces of the man-made materials were found in the majority of sea water and snow samples taken by the researchers.

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The Greenpeace team gathered snow samples which revealed the presence of hazardous chemicals. After exploring the desolate region around the South Pole, the man-made material was uncovered in the majority of samples taken over the course of a three-month study

Greenpeace also saw numerous items of fishing debris in the Antarctic, including buoys, nets and tarpaulins. 

Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic, which can originate from any number of man-made items, including carrier bags and textiles to car tires.

Greenpeace took eight sea water samples during its study, of which seven were found to contain at least one tiny piece of plastic or microplastic per litre of water. 

Microfibres from clothing were also found in the sea water samples.

Seven of nine samples of snow were found to have detectable concentrations of persistent chemicals known as PFAs or PFCs.

These chemicals were also detected in freshly-fallen snow, which suggests they were deposited from the atmosphere.

The findings from the trip, which took place between January and March 2018, show ‘humanity’s footprint is clear’ in the Antarctic, the campaigners said.


After exploring the desolate region around the South Pole, the man-made material was uncovered in the majority of samples taken over the course of a three-month study


Greenpeace also said its expedition had seen numerous items of fishing debris in the Antarctic, including buoys, nets and tarpaulins. Seventeen water samples were taken by Greenpeace and nine of them were found to have plastic in


Of the water samples taken by Greenpeace, eight were found to contain at least one tiny piece of plastic or microplastic per litre of water, such as microfibres which can come from clothing

WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS AND HOW DO THEY GET INTO OUR WATERWAYS?

Microplastics are plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres (0.2 inches).

They have hit the headlines over recent years, as improper disposal has resulted in tonnes of waste making its way into the ocean.

Each year, tonnes of plastic waste fails to get recycled and dealt with correctly, which can mean they end up in marine ecosystems. 

Although it’s unclear exactly how they end up in the water, microplastics may enter through simple everyday wear and tear of clothing and carpets.

Tumble dryers may also be a source, particularly if they have a vent to the open air. 

Plastics don’t break down for thousands of years and it is estimated that there are already millions of items of plastic waste in the oceans. This number is expected to rise. 

Studies have also revealed 700,000 plastic fibres could be released into the atmosphere with every washing machine cycle.

Current water systems are unable to effectively filter out all microplastic contamination, due to the varying size of particles.  

The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s tap water is contaminated with plastic, research published in September 2017 revealed.

The US has the highest contamination rate at 93 per cent, followed by Lebanon and India, experts from the University of Minnesota found.

France, Germany and the UK have the lowest levels, however, they still come in at 72 per cent.

Overall, 83 per cent of water samples from dozens of nations around the world contain microplastics.

Scientists warn microplastics are so small they could penetrate organs. 

Bottled water may not be a safer alternative, as scientists have found contaminated samples.

Creatures of all shapes and sizes have been found to have consumed the plastics, whether directly or indirectly.

Previous research has also revealed microplastics absorb toxic chemicals, which are then released in the gut of animals.

Greenpeace is calling for urgent action to stem the flow of plastic into the world’s seas and curb pollutants at the source.

The independent environmental organisation is also petitioning to establish a huge Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary to protect the wildlife and habitats in the area. 

The findings come as scientists found record amounts of microplastics in Arctic sea ice and a plastic bag was spotted in the deepest part of the ocean, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific ocean.

Greenpeace said there was relatively little data on microplastics in Antarctic waters and the latest analysis will provide new information on contamination in the region. 


Seven of nine samples of snow were found to have detectable concentrations of persistent chemicals known as PFAs or PFCs, including in freshly-fallen snow which suggests they were deposited from the atmosphere


Greenpeace previously revealed that microplastics, which degrade slowly, can be transported long distances. Microplastics have now been found in snow and water samples from eight remote mountainous areas worldwide


Greenpeace is calling for the creation of a vast sanctuary in Antarctica to protect wildlife such as penguins and seals as plastic pollution spreads

The chemicals detected by Greenpeace in snow samples from the region are widely used in industrial processes and consumer products, such as waterproof finishes on clothing, and have been linked to issues with reproduction and development in animals.

Greenpeace previously revealed the chemicals, which degrade very slowly – if at all, have been found in snow and water samples from eight remote mountainous areas worldwide.

Frida Bengtsson, of Greenpeace’s ‘protect the Antarctic’ campaign, said: ‘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.


The team aboard the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise (pictured) performed the analysis between January and March 2018. The environmental organisation says the research shows ‘humanity’s footprint is clear’ in the Antarctic

WHAT ARE THE LATEST PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE IMPACT OF OCEAN WASTE?

The amount of plastic in the oceans is expected to triple in just ten years, a report issued by the UK government in March 2018 warned.

This key environmental problem risks being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ with more known about the surface of Mars and the Moon than the deep sea bed, it added.

The toll of plastic pollution in the sea could be 150million tonnes by 2025 – treble the 50million tonnes estimated in 2015. 

Our oceans store carbon dioxide and heat while producing oxygen and food, the Foresight Future of the Sea Report stressed. 

On the growing blight of plastic pollution, the document warned this will leave a physical presence, accumulating on coasts or in particular areas of ocean.

The report also warned plastic litter on coasts can increase the risk of dangerous bacteria in the water, such as E.coli. 

It said efforts to reduce plastic pollution should focus on stopping it entering the sea, developing new biodegradable materials and public awareness campaigns. 

‘These results show that even the most remote habitats of the Antarctic are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals.

‘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.’

She said the group saw ‘all kinds of waste from the fishing industry’ in the Antarctic.

‘Buoys, nets and tarpaulins drifted in between icebergs, which was really sad to see.’


This inconspicuous piece of plastic waste was found on May 20, 1998 (pictured). It shows the fragmented remains of a carrier bag that has sunk to the deepest point on Earth, coming to rest at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, some 36,000ft (10,898m) below the surface


The carrier bag in the Mariana Trench was found deeper than 33 Eiffel towers, laid tip to base. The plastic bag was one of 3,000 pieces of man made debris discovered by researchers studying records of deep ocean pollution dating back 30 years

She added: ‘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.

‘Plastic has now been found in all corners of our oceans, from the Antarctic to the Arctic and at the deepest point of the ocean, the Mariana Trench.

‘We need urgent action to reduce the flow of plastic into our seas and we need large scale marine reserves – like a huge Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary which over 1.6 million people are calling for – to protect marine life and our oceans for future generations.’

How do I get involved with the Daily Mail’s Great Plastic Pick Up?

There is still time to sign up to the Mail’s Great Plastic Pick Up, which runs this week from the start of Friday, May 11, to the end of Sunday, May 13.

Communities will pitch in to help tackle the plastic menace poisoning the country.

So far 11,241 people have signed up to take part, with 801 pick-ups organised to take place across the country. To join in, go to greatplasticpickup.org and enter your details.

Groups from one person to 100 can register, with children welcome, accompanied by an adult.

A Daily Mail team will judge photographs sent in by the Pick Up groups and select three who will win a professional spring clean for their local area worth £10,000.

WHERE DO I GET RUBBISH BAGS?

The first 3,000 events organised will be sent 30 recycled bags to use for collecting plastic, with an additional 450,000 Pick Up bags available for collection from local councils.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

Simply gather at the arranged time, check with the organiser and get picking! Plastic bottles and lids go in the blue bags, with caps and labels; metal cans are for the red bags; anything else is for the white sacks.

WHAT SHOULDN’T I PICK UP?

Never touch syringes, broken glass or large fly-tipped items – instead, tell your council. Steer clear of busy roads.

HOW CAN I KEEP INFORMED?

Follow the #GreatPlasticPickUp hashtag on Twitter, check greatplasticpickup..org to see a map of Pick Ups across the country, and stay up to date in the Daily Mail.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? 

Organisers should log the number of litter bags on greatplasticpickup.org.

WILL YOUR SCHOOL WIN A TRIP WITH CHRIS PACKHAM?

This is the prize for children and teachers in the top litter-picking school – an all-expenses-paid school trip to a Sea Life Centre with TV host and wildlife expert Chris Packham to see some of the marine life you will have helped.

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