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Microfiber Plastic Pollution Found in Antarctic

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RICHMOND, B.C.—Ocean Legacy Foundation (OLF), a nonprofit organization that develops and implements worldwide plastic pollution programs with the goal to end ocean plastic pollution, released results from their plastic pollution study that took place in Antarctica in partnership with Ocean Geographic from February 12 to 23, 2023, as part of the most recent Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023 (ACE 2023). The ACE 2023 was spearheaded by Dr. Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer, Marine Biologist and Explorer, and Michael AW, Ocean Geographic Founder. A total of 120 thought leaders from 20 countries in the fields of science, art, education, and economics, alongside teenagers and corporate executives, came together for ACE 2023 to strategize and act on the climate crisis. Expedition members helped formulate eight resolutions to achieve global net zero by 2035 and preserve a healthy ocean planet for future generations.

Chloé Dubois, co-founder, Ocean Legacy Foundation, was one of the 120 global leaders who took part in ACE 2023. Dubois’ responsibility throughout the expedition, alongside Alex Rose, Science Editor, Ocean Geographic, was to investigate the presence of microplastic pollution in select locations in Antarctica. Using surface sample trawls, the abundance of plastic pollution was quantified around icebergs and smaller chunks of floating ice. Samples were analyzed using microscopy at the University of British Columbia in partnership with Ocean Diagnostics. Results demonstrated that all wet samples recovered contained plastic pollution in the form of microfiber contamination and illustrated the prolific nature of plastic pollution presence in Antarctica’s open ocean environment.

“The exploration of plastic pollution around the Antarctic was a rare and unique opportunity to begin to quantify the presence of plastic pollution in one of the wildest places left on this planet,” said Chloé Dubois, co-founder, Ocean Legacy Foundation. “This study confirms that just as other parts of the ocean, Antarctica is no exception, and its waters are contaminated by plastic pollution.”

This study was not designed to capture and control microfiber contamination. Therefore, recent research on microplastics in the Southern Ocean and its considerable findings underscore the need to develop targeted methods to accurately study microfiber pollution to better understand its footprint in the polar waters of Antarctica.

More Study is Needed

“There is also a critical need to increase microplastic base-line data and we need to refine best practices to test for and control microfiber pollution in Antarctica,” added Dubois. “Consistently quantifying microplastic pollution over a timeframe will become an important benchmark and endeavor as human activity continues to increase in this remote area of the world.”

“Antarctica lies at the heart of the climate crisis and holds the key to solutions and lessons that can be applied globally,” said Michael AW, Ocean Geographic Founder, and leader of the ACE 2023. “In the 10 expeditions I have done since 2003, this was the most dramatic degradation I have seen. Just as other parts of the ocean, Antarctica is no exception, its waters are affected by plastic pollution. The next ten years are critical for changing the tipping points into turning points and maintaining a habitable planet for humanity.”

Over 400 million tons of plastic is produced each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items, and 8 to 13 metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year, making up 80 percent of all marine pollution.

“To avoid climate tipping points, marine species loss, and the melt of Antarctica, we need to cap annual plastic production with a plan to manage all plastic resources in the next 10 to 15 years,” added AW. “This includes breaking the habit of single-use consumerism and embracing circularity at all levels tailored for individuals, industry, and government.”

For more information about the Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023 and the eight resolutions, visit this link. For more information on OLF, visit https://oceanlegacy.ca/.

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