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Microplastic pollution has already reached the Antarctica

2 october, 2019
Penguins gentoo Pygocelis papua
Penguins gentoo Pygocelis papua
© UC | José Xavier

Microplastic pollution has already reached the Antarctica, according to a study carried out by the University of Coimbra (UC), published today in the journal “Scientific Reports” (Nature).

A team of researchers of the Centre for Marine and Environmental Sciences (MARE) of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) found for the first time microplastics in Antarctic penguins, confirming that this type of pollution has already entered the marine food chain.

By analysing the diet of the gentoo penguins Pygoscelis papua in two regions of the Antarctica, the researchers discovered that 20% of the 80 scats samples of these birds contained microplastics (plastic particles under 5mm long) of several types, shapes and colours, which shows a wide variety of possible sources of these microplastics.

Marine plastic pollution is a widely known threat to oceans around the world but there has only recently been an increase in scientific efforts on microplastics. In more remote areas of the planet, such as the Antarctica, the presence of microplastics was expected to be small, although recent studies have found microplastics in sediments and waters of the Antarctic Ocean.

Filipa Bessa, author of the article, claims: “it is alarming that microplastics have already reached the Antarctica. Our study is the first one to discover microplastics in penguins and in the Antarctica marine food chain.” The researcher highlights that “the variety of microplastics found in penguins may show different sources of pollution, which makes it difficult to find a solution for this problem”

José Xavier, lead author of the article, states that “this study comes at the right time, as microplastics can have toxic effects on marine animals and nothing is known about what they might do to animals in the Antarctic region.” Furthermore, “this discovery is extremely important in order to develop new measures to reduce pollution in the Antarctica, particularly related to plastics, and may serve as an example for other regions of the world".

News article: Cristina Pinto

Translation: Diana Taborda