PLASTIC FOUND ON ARCTIC ICE FLOES
This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems
By Cori Marshall
As reported last week, plastic is turning up in our drinking water, and in pretty uniform numbers around the world. Now plastic is turning up in an area where we thought it would not be found. A team of European scientists led by marine biologist and PhD Candidate Tim Gordon, discovered plastic and polystyrene on ice floes in the Arctic, in areas far from land that were previously unnavigable even in summer.
To get an understanding of what this discovery means, how the plastic got there, and how this will affect the Arctic environment we spoke with Brent Else, Geographer and Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary.
Even though parts of the Arctic Ocean were not traversable even in summer, Else said "it's important to understand that all of the oceans are connected." He added, "plastic that goes into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans could very easily travel to the Arctic by ocean currents." Another likely source is that "the Arctic Ocean is surrounded by large rivers that drain water from farther south, [...] it's easy to imagine plastic floating down a river like the Mackenzie, and then getting trapped in an ice floe," Else said.
Else believes that "plastic in the Arctic marine ecosystem should be a concern." Else explained that "the presence of any visible garbage like this suggests that there are probably smaller microplastics there too."
"Microplastics tend to get eaten by fish and smaller organisms, which in turn get eaten by bigger animals,” he said.
Else was not aware of any strong evidence of this happening in the Arctic, “that might partly be because it's so hard to do any scientific studies in the Arctic."
"Unfortunately, the oceans are massive, so it's hard to imagine an engineering project that could do anything about the current plastic situation." - Brent Else, PhD
The task now is what to do about that plastic, if large-scale engineering can't address the problem how do go about it? Else suggested, "the best thing to do right now is trying to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean, [by] lobbying all levels of government to pass laws that ensure plastic waste is being dealt with responsibly."
Plastic is everywhere, even in the most remote parts of our planet. There doesn't appear to be a quick fix on the horizon. Then it is on us to change how we use plastic and how much of we use.