Plastic pollution has gotten worse and so widespread that scientists now find plastic waste in the ice sheets in the Arctic.
An expedition by the Arctic Mission team led by British scientists found blocks of polystyrene plastic in remote areas of the Arctic Ocean that used to be enveloped by ice throughout the year.
The expedition managed to go further into previously inaccessible waters of the Central Arctic Ocean because of melting sea ice popularly blamed on warming temperatures brought by climate change.
Worsening Plastic Pollution
The discovery of plastic waste so far north causes concern because it indicates a worsening global plastic pollution.
Ceri Lewis, from the University of Exeter and scientific adviser to the expedition, has warned that 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, which is about the same as the weight of all humans on Earth. About half of these materials is only used once and then thrown away.
Experts also estimate that more than 8 million tons of plastic pieces get into the ocean per year, and over 5 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to float on the ocean surface.
Threats Posed By Pollution That Drift Into The Arctic Ocean
The findings suggest that melting ice allows waste to float to the surface. Experts said that the high levels of pollution that drift into these areas pose serious risk for the Arctic wildlife. The Arctic happens to be home of interesting and unique animals.
"The Arctic is home to animals found nowhere else on Earth. Where else can you find the longest living vertebrate on the planet (the 400-year old Greenland shark), the unicorn of the sea (the narwhal), and the colorful Spectacled Eider?" Nicholas Mallos, the director of the Trash Free Seas Program at Ocean Conservancy, earlier wrote.
Large plastic pieces can break down into tiny particles that can be accidentally consumed by marine animals. These particles can remain in the bodies of animals and can be passed up the food chain, which can threaten wildlife.
"We need to seriously consider how best to protect the Arctic's animals from these new threats. By doing so, we will give them a fighting chance of adapting and responding to their rapidly-changing habitat," said Exeter University marine biologist Tim Gordon.
Although many rivers that serve as source of plastic pollution lead into the Arctic Ocean, plastic pollution has been trapped into the ice. Experts said that now that the ice is melting, microplastics get released into the Arctic, which is thought to be a hotspot of microplastics accumulation.