Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Ten times more ocean debris reaches Atlantic islands

  • Written by  Chris Fitch
  • Published in Oceans
Ten times more ocean debris reaches Atlantic islands
23 Nov
2018
Ocean debris, mostly composed of plastic, reaches remote Atlantic islands at ten times the levels found just a decade ago

Coastlines of remote, sparsely inhabited South Atlantic territories such as Tristan da Cunha, Ascension and the Falkland Islands, have, until recently, showed minimal evidence of human interference. ‘Three decades ago these islands, which are some of the most remote on the planet, were near-pristine,’ says Dr David Barnes, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). This is no longer true. BAS research reveals that these island outcrops have experienced a one hundred-fold increase in debris – predominantly plastic, comprising more than 90 per cent – washing in from the ocean over the intervening 30 years. ‘In 2018 we recorded up to 300 items per metre of shoreline on East Falkland and St Helena,’ says Barnes. ‘This is ten times higher than recorded a decade ago.

D Barnes Plastic on St Helenas beaches LR 2Plastic debris found by Dr Barnes on the beach at St Helena

In recent years the BAS research ship RRS James Clark Ross undertook four research cruises in the South Atlantic, surveying the density of plastic and other debris on the sea surface, on the seabed, in the water column, inside native fauna and on shorelines. Levels of shoreline plastic are now comparable to those observed on highly populated coasts in North America, with around a third being comprised of microplastics (smaller than 5mm). They also counted plastic inside 2,243 animals, spanning 26 different species and the entire food chain, from zooplankton up to seabirds.

‘With all the initiatives and awareness, I had expected stabilisation – or possibly even an improvement – of the problem,’ says Barnes. While he emphasises the importance of cutting off the supply of plastic waste at the source, he also points to a series of local engagement projects on these islands that look to minimise the issue. ‘There are only small communities on Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, but there have been beach cleans and even scuba operations to try and clean plastics up in local environments,’ he outlines. ‘In the Falklands there have been even more concerted efforts with substantial clean-ups and surveys, and they have already been in contact with us about trying to do more. St Helena is really pushing on this, and as well as surveys, beach and scuba cleans, and nearshore water sampling, now it has won a new grant specifically to target plastic waste.’

This was published in the December 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

With guaranteed sunshine, bright blue skies and not a hint…

Oceans

A review of coral-saving methods is helping communities decide which…

Polar

A seven-year study of Patagonia’s ice sheets has revealed the…

Climate

The environmental impact of Bitcoin is higher than its virtual…

Geophoto

With a camera in everyone’s pocket, the once rarified world…

Climate

The idea of the Earth as a self-regulating, living organism…

Oceans

A temporary fishing ban has been imposed by the European…

Wildlife

A look at the contribution of hippos to the savannah…

Wildlife

The new app encourages young children to connect with the…

Energy

A type of panel has been invented that can generate…

Tectonics

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were…

Climate

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management pledges to achieve net…

Tectonics

Earthquakes from time immemorial have attracted the attention of the…

Tectonics

A planned kayaking expedition in Nepal took on a whole…

Tectonics

Scientists from Bristol University are working in conjunction with EDF…

Tectonics

In the 1930s, Charles Richter developed a simple scale for…

Tectonics

Researchers at Colombia University have answered a question that has…