Plastic Garbage Has Found its Way to the Farthest Reaches of the Planet

Written by Anna Culaba

Give yourselves a pat on the back, people — for the first time ever there are large pieces of garbage floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. With about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our ocean it was really just a matter of time before they reached the “farthest reaches of the planet.”

In a study published in the journal Polar Biology researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and Belgium’s Laboratory for Polar Ecology discovered 31 pieces of plastic litter were spotted floating on the surface of the Barents Sea and Fram Strait from their place in the bridge of an icebreaker and a helicopter.

And while 31 may not seem like such a big deal, it does confirm that litter has found its way to remote waters of the Arctic.

“Since we conducted our surveys from the bridge, 18 meters above sea level, and from a helicopter, we were only able to spot the larger pieces of litter. Therefore, our numbers are probably an underestimate,” AWI biologist Melanie Bergmann said in a statement.

According to Phys.org, computer models believe that the trash is coming from a sixth garbage patch that is forming in the Barents Sea. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that “garbage patches” are areas with high concentration of marine debris in the ocean. And there are currently five of them scattered around the world.

They’re pretty much the poster children for plastic pollution.

“Another cause for litter in the Arctic could be the retreat of the Arctic sea ice. As a result, more and more cruise liners and fish trawlers are operating further north, following the cod,” Bergmann said. “Most likely, litter from the ships intentionally or accidentally ends up in the waters of the Arctic. We expect this trend to continue.”

And considering that plastic breaks down into tiny little particles, there could be more plastic debris below the surface that we just can’t see. “On the deep Arctic seafloor, we found an average of 2.2 to 18.4 pieces of litter per kilometer of our [5,600 kilometers] route. This indicates that the deep seafloor may be the ultimate sink for marine litter,” Bergmann suggests.

What does this mean for marine life in the Arctic?

Phys.org reports that plastic floating on the surface of the Arctic is harmful to the seabirds that feed at the sea surface.

A study published earlier this year in Polar Biology found that seabirds and sharks on Greenland have swallowed plastic litters.

According to the study, eight percent of the sharks caught off of Greenland had plastic in their stomachs, while 88 percent of northern fulmars have swallowed plastic.

And it’s not going to get any better as long as we continue to use the ocean as our dumping ground. But hey, if you don’t mind eating fish with a side of plastic then you’re good to go.

 This post originally appeared on RYOT

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

45 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Dianne D.
Dianne D2 years ago

Humans are despicable. There is no excuse for this. Wish the could trace this back to those responsible and prosecute.

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

This can be avoided with a simple solution. Geesh!

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Douglas J.
Douglas J2 years ago

Ignorance, poverty, apathy or just plain rude people are turning the world into their personal garbage can.

Wildlife including birds, mammals of all types and fish are dying needlessly in enormous numbers, due to plastic pollution. Can you image what the bottom of the oceans look like.

When viewing poverty stricken locations around the world I am always amazed at the filth and discarded trash heaped in piles around these impoverished settlements.....I appreciate that desperation and hunger far outweigh the offense of disposing of ones garbage out the side window, if they have one, but that being said, it costs nothing but a little effort, to not further mar ones environment.

As far as educated, first world polluters....their just inconsiderate pigs or immoral greedy corporate pigs, that when found, should be publicly shamed and made to clean up their own mess with their own hands.

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mari s.
Mari S2 years ago

Despicable and shameful -- all you have to do is place the plastic item in the proper receptacle for recycling -- why is this so difficult? --- if receptacle is not available, just hold onto plastic item until it is. What's the problem! -- We MUST cherish and take care of our planet -- it's the law -- it's the law of the universe!

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Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

This news is the pits! And a major wake-up call too!

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Fred L.
Fred L2 years ago

Whenever I surf, I pick up as much opala (trash) as will fit into my wax pocket. It's a little gesture of respect for the ocean, and I know it's infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things. Yesterday's haul included plastic bags, bits of hard plastic, cigarette butts and fishing line, including line that still had leaders and hooks attached. As a species, we don't deserve this beautiful planet. Surfing always makes me feel great, but picking up all this shit is infuriating.

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Bronwyn B.
Bronwyn B2 years ago

Shameful.

We are poisoning everyone & everything with plastic.

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Pat P.
Pat P2 years ago

ONLY M. "There are still places in the world where rivers are used as dumps".

How right you are, even in the U.S.! Although not as obvious or even well-known, the St. John's River in Florida, with the permission of previous governor, Jeb Bush, and present Gov. Scott Walker, is being/has been used, by the Koch brothers (through a Georgia-Pacific pipeline easement) as a dump for tons of toxic waste from their paper mill company, Palatka--every day!

There are more, but this one I know is, particularly, egregious. There is a law suit in process, accusing the above 4 corrupt individuals of an illegal easement, aside from the horrific unethical environmental damage! Unfortunately, with their money and power, they have gotten away with it, so far. I have to hope that will change--but there's some pretty powerful and wealthy people involved.

We have a world of ordinary citizens who trash the planet, with no remorse. Add the who-knows-how-many corporations that massively pollute, again, without concern.

Every living being suffers from this lack of responsibility and concern for the health of the earth and its inhabitants--many even die.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

How demoralizing. My heart just fell.

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