Sustainability — Samples taken from the Antarctic Weddell Sea have returned riddled with synthetic microplastic fibers, scientists have revealed in a new study.
The researchers identified fibrous polyesters, primarily from textiles, in the air, seawater, sediment and sea ice they sampled during a 2019 expedition. They published their findings this week in Frontiers in Marine Science.
While all of these sources were contaminated, the scientists found that the majority of the microplastic fibers were present in Antarctic air samples — indicating that seabirds and other animals could be inhaling them.
“The issue of microplastic fibers is also an airborne problem reaching even the last remaining pristine environments on our planet,” co-author Lucy Woodall, a professor of marine biology at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.
Woodall, the first scientist to reveal plastic in the deep sea in 2014, urged policymakers to tackle this issue at a related United Nations conference taking place in Uruguay next week.
At the summit, an intergovernmental negotiating committee is being tasked with developing a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, according to the U.N. Environment Program.
Ahead of these so-called “Global Plastic Treaty” discussions, Woodall and her colleagues urged negotiators to reduce plastic pollution and production by delivering a robust agreement.
They also advocated for empowering local communities to co-develop programs that bolster full life-cycle solutions to waste management.
“Ocean currents and winds are the vectors for plastic pollution to travel across the globe and even to the remotest corners of the world,” added co-lead author Nuria Rico Seijo, an Oxford research scientist.
“The transboundary nature of microplastics pollution provides more evidence for the urgency and importance of a strong international plastic pollution treaty,” Rico Seijo said.