In what shows how far plastic pollution has spread, scientists on an expedition have discovered such pollution on remote frozen ice floes in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. A team of scientists led by marine biologist Tim Gordon of the University of Exeter in Britain carried out research on two sailing boats as part of polar explorer Pen Hadow’s “Arctic Mission”. Hadow is the only person to have trekked solo, without resupply, from Canada to the Geographic North Pole.
The pioneering expedition went further into the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean than any other ships in history, which was made possible because of recent reductions in summer ice cover in the Arctic. The team discovered blocks of polystyrene in areas that are many hundreds of miles from land and were until recently covered by ice all year round, according to a news release from the University of Exeter on Monday. Two large pieces were spotted on the edge of ice floes within 1,000 miles of the North Pole.
Large plastic pieces such as this can break down into ‘microplastics’ – tiny particles of plastic that are accidentally consumed by filter-feeding animals. The plastic particles can stay in animals’ bodies and are passed up the food chain, threatening wildlife at all levels from zooplankton to apex predators such as polar bears. Explorer Hadow said he had never seen blocks of plastic waste before on the Arctic sea ice. “For the 25 years I have been exploring the Arctic I have never seen such large and very visible items of rubbish,” he said. “The blocks of polystyrene were just sitting on top of the ice,” Hadow added. “Finding pieces of rubbish like this is a worrying sign that melting ice may be allowing high levels of pollution to drift into these areas. This is potentially very dangerous for the Arctic’s wildlife,” Gordon said.