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

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

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

Mountains provide a dramatic sight at the best of times,…

Wildlife

A surge in reports of dead hares has resulted in…

Oceans

Four scientists have banded together to make the case against the farming of octopuses, arguing…

Climate

As planetary oil consumption hits the 100-million-barrel mark Marco Magrini…

Oceans

A ship that ran aground early in February has been…

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…

Polar

The world’s magnetic model is getting an early update, as…

Climate

Marco Magrini looks at the financial pressures spilling out into the…

Geophoto

Few sights are more dramatic than a star-filled sky at…

Polar

A region of Antarctica previously known for relative stability is…

Tectonics

Everything we thought we knew about eruptions could be wrong

Oceans

Sea levels are rising across the globe, but along the…

Polar

Seismometers buried in the Ross Ice Shelf have revealed that…