A Plastic Antarctic

The Antarctic has no indigenous population, a transient population of a few thousand and attracts only around 40,000 visitors a year; but that hasn’t stopped the presence of humanity being acutely felt in the region.

Researchers on a scientific vessel working the area have been shocked to discover how much plastic pollution is in the waters around the 14 million square kilometre continent.

According to a report on the ABC, they found plastic levels to be similar to other places around the world – up to 40,000 fragments of plastic waste in every square kilometre of sea.

By “fragments”, these could be highly visible or even barely – but even the tiny bits can cause havoc to marine organisms that ingest them or otherwise come into contact with toxic by-products as plastic breaks down.

The article mentions shearwaters, also known as mutton birds or Mother Carey’s chickens. These are not a rare bird, but the very disturbing news is 100 per cent of those examined have eaten plastic. I know how common these birds are having spent a fair bit of time out at sea – it’s terrible to think there’s that much plastic out there that every single bird has ingested some.

Elsewhere in Australia (Australia lays claim to a big chunk of the Antarctic region), more bad news – our Great Barrier Reef, often referred to as one of the natural wonders of the world, is in massive trouble. Not in ten years, but right now.

The amount of coral covering the Reef has halved since 1985, with the majority of that occurring in just the last 14 years.

The Great Barrier Reef is massive – covering 344,400 square kilometres. In 1985, coral covered 28 percent of the area; so around 96,000 square kilometres. That has dropped to 13.8 percent – about 47,000 square kilometres. A loss of 49,000 square kilometres in less than 30 years (and most of that in the last 14) is just staggering.

One of the contributing factors is coral bleaching, caused by stressors such as overly-warm water or pollution – both of which can be connected to human activity.

I have never been to the Great Barrier Reef and I likely never will. It’s just nice to know these amazing ecosystems exist and that they (perhaps) can be enjoyed and appreciated for generations to come; not to mention their importance to the marine creatures they support.

I mention these two news items not to just be the bearer of doom and gloom, but to underline the point that while we’re making some progress as a species, it’s not fast enough – and while simple green actions certainly help, we’re not going to save the planet (as we currently know it) but just doing little things like using baking soda to replace harsh chemical cleaners.