Plastic, islands of waste pollute the Arctic

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An expedition of marine biologists spotted floating plastic materials that could come from the Barents Sea.

They sailed far and wide in the oceans around the world. Then they set out north on the most difficult route. Finally they arrived in the cold waters of the Arctic. We’re talking about plastic waste: huge islands that cut through the planet seas. This is the result of a senseless human policy of rubbish management.

The new polar frontier is confirmed by a new study of the Alfred Wegener Institute and the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. It’s the first time that plastic is spotted at these latitudes and it is not clear yet how it got there. What is certain is that it is creating problems for local marine life: plastic traces have already been found in marine birds and in Greenland’s sharks.

To gauge pollution levels, researchers have joined an icebreakers’ expedition in the area between eastern Greenland and Svalbard isles. Scientists observed, from the ship’s bridge and from a helicopter, 31 points with plastic waste. Although the number may seem low, this confirms that part of all floating waste could arrive in the Arctic. “We were able to see only the larger pieces, therefore our estimate is surely low”, says the marine biologist Melanie Bergman. It’s known that, with time, plastic will degrade into tiny fragments that can be found only through analysis.

The floating waste in the Arctic could have broken away from an island of waste in the Barents Sea. These accumulation zones are created when large amounts of plastic pieces are captured by ocean currents and concentrated in the centre of vortices.

Currently, we’re aware of five small “waste islands” around the world. The one in the Barents Sea could give birth to the sixth one. Bergman believes that the intense activity of Northern Europe’s coastal populations could have been the cause. Another reason could be melting ice. This allows cruise ships and fishing vessels to sail more and more to the north, discarding, be it intentionally or accidentally, their waste in the Arctic waters.

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