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Madrid scientists find micro-plastics in off-limits Antarctic zone
30 November 2020 @ 21:09

SCIENTISTS from Madrid Autonomous University (UAM) have found micro-plastics in a protected area of the Antarctic for the first time ever.

The Byers Peninsula, on Livingston Island (pictured left, by the UAM), is a freshwater zone completely inaccessible to humans – only accredited researchers, who have to obtain a permit first – meaning the presence of micro-plastics shows just how far they travel when they find their way into the seas.

According to the team, fragments of polyester (PET) – the type used to make disposable water bottles and also textile fabric – acrylic and teflon have been discovered in the waters of the South Pole.

They are all smaller than five millimetres in diameter – half a centimetre, or about a quarter of an inch – and generally range from 0.4 to 3.5 millimetres, and in all shapes and colours, in fibre format and film, or soft plastics.

This means they are so small they would not be noticed by animals, fish or even humans drinking them.

“We already knew micro-plastics had reached the sea, rivers and the soil over a large part of the planet, but we didn't expect to find them in what is probably one of, if not the, most virgin territories on earth,” say UAM investigators.

“This is a part of the Antarctic which has been under various environmental protection legislation since 1966, and its access is highly restricted. You can only enter it for scientific reasons, in very small groups, and with a permit from the Antarctic authorities.

“In fact, in the last few decades, only a very small number of scientists have entered Livingston Island, and only for very specific causes that required full justification.”

As well as the UAM, which was leading the expedition, the National Museum of Natural Sciences and Alcalá University, in the Greater Madrid region, took part, using a micro-filter technique to search for the miniscule plastic particles and publishing the results of their research in the magazine Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The group says this disturbing discovery raises the question: Is there a single part of the planet left where micro-plastics are not now present?

“There's still a lot of work to do to find out how they were transported here [to the Byers Peninsula], but we do know where they come from: They originate from activity that every single one of us is involved in,” a UAM spokesperson said.

The researchers were quick to point out that the real 'evil' in this situation is not plastic, but humans who use it.

“Plastic is not all bad,” they stressed.

“But plastic is designed to be very long-lasting. And despite this, a huge proportion of the plastic we use every day is disposable, or single-use only.



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