Author Archives: Michelle Mech

Plastics reach remote pristine environments, impacting birds’ eggs of Arctic birds

Birds’ eggs in High Arctic contain chemical additives used in plastics.

Scientists have warned about the impact of plastic pollution in the most pristine corners of the world after discovering chemical additives in birds’ eggs in the High Arctic.

Eggs laid by northern fulmars on Prince Leopold Island in the Canadian Arctic tested positive for hormone-disrupting phthalates, a family of chemicals that are added to plastics to keep them flexible. It is the first time the additives have been found in Arctic birds’ eggs. The contaminants are thought to have leached from plastic debris that the birds ingested while hunting for fish, squid and shrimp in the Lancaster Sound at the entrance to the Northwest Passage. The birds spend most of their lives feeding at sea, returning to their nests only to breed.

Northern fulmars have an oily fluid in their stomachs, which they projectile-vomit at invaders that threaten their nests. Scientists believe the phthalates found their way into the fluid, and from there passed into the bloodstream and the eggs that females were producing. Jennifer Provencher at the Canadian Wildlife Service said it was worrying to find the additives in birds’ eggs in such a pristine environment. The northern fulmars in the Arctic tend to come across far less plastic than other birds.

Provencher’s tests revealed that mothers passed on a cocktail of contaminants to their unborn chicks. “It’s really tragic,” she said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. “That bird, from the very beginning of its development, will have those contaminants inside it.”

She analysed the yolk and albumin of five northern fulmar eggs collected on Prince Leopold Island and found that one tested positive for phthalates. The chemicals disrupt hormones, or the endocrine system, and have been linked to birth defects, fertility problems and a host of metabolic diseases. Many phthalates have been banned in children’s toys on safety grounds.

More work is needed to confirm whether the additives cause any harm. “We know that these chemicals are often endocrine disruptors, and we know that they can interrupt hormonal development and cause deformations. But whether they actually cause any harm in the eggs is something we don’t know,” Provencher said.

Further tests found traces of other plastic contaminants in northern fulmar and black-legged kittiwake eggs collected from the same nesting sites. Eggs from both birds tested positive for SDPAs and BZT-UVs, which are added to plastics to stop them degrading and losing their colour in sunlight, respectively.

Northern fulmars are large, albatross-like birds that soar low over the waves in search of food. More than half a million breeding pairs nest on the cliffs of Britain, with most on the Scottish coastline and Northern Isles.

Because northern fulmars can live for 40 years or more, the birds have been exposed to significant plastic debris in the seas for only a few generations. That meant the birds had not had time to adapt to the changing environment, Provencher said.

Alex Bond, a conservation biologist who studies seabirds and marine debris at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “It’s another example of the often invisible impacts that plastics can have on wildlife. It may not be enough to result in mortality, but it’s certainly not a positive thing, and combined with the pressures from other contaminants – from plastics and from the birds’ prey – contributes to the increased threats that many of the world’s seabirds are facing.”

Lyndsey Dodds, the head of UK marine policy at WWF, said: “Our throwaway culture is strangling the natural world with plastic, choking our oceans and harming our wildlife; 90% of the world’s sea birds have fragments of plastic in their stomach, and now we are hearing even their eggs are not immune from the plastic plague. We need to take urgent action globally and at home to eliminate plastics from nature by 2030.”

Featured Image: Northern fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, nesting in Scotland. Fulmars spend most of their lives feeding at sea. Photograph: Philippe Clément/PA Images

Ian Sample, Science Editor, The Guardian

February 17, 2019

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/17/plastics-reach-remote-pristine-environments-scientists-say?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR0RoL9e0jwTQXwNutjWOA_vuBgTR5wDdGfRQktnPKOSEDilWr99Gg4JtEo

Microplastics found in all species of sea turtles

Tests on more than 100 sea turtles – spanning three oceans and all seven species – have revealed microplastics in the guts of every single turtle.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, working with the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, looked for synthetic particles (less than 5mm in length) including microplastics in 102 sea turtles in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean.

Synthetic particles were found in all of the sea turtles, the most common being fibres, which can potentially come from sources including clothing, tyres, cigarette filters and maritime equipment such as ropes and fishing nets.

“The effect of these particles on turtles is unknown,”said lead author Dr. Emily Duncan of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Their small size means they can pass through the gut without causing a blockage, as is frequently reported with larger plastic fragments.

“However, future work should focus on whether microplastics may be affecting aquatic organisms more subtly.

“For example, they may possibly carry contaminants, bacteria or viruses, or they may affect the turtle at a cellular or subcellular level. This requires further investigation.”

In total, more than 800 synthetic particles were found in the 102 turtles studied.

But researchers only tested part of each animal’s gut – so the total number of particles is estimated to be about 20 times higher.

Researchers do not currently understand how synthetic particles are ingested by turtles, but the likely sources are polluted seawater and sediments, and eating via prey or plants.

Professor Bendan Godley, senior author of the study, added: “It really is a great shame that many or even all of the world’s sea turtles have now ingested microplastics.

“At the moment, this is not the main threat to this species group but it is a clear sign that we need to act to better govern global waste.”

Necropsies were carried out on the turtles after they died either by stranding or bycatch (accidental catching in fishing).

The study sites were North Carolina, USA (Atlantic), Northern Cyprus (Mediterranean) and Queensland, Australia (Pacific).

The turtles with the most synthetic particles were in the Mediterranean – thought to have higher rates of contamination than the Atlantic or Pacific – but this study’s sample sizes and methodology did not allow for detailed geographical comparisons.

Dr. Penelope Lindeque of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: “While this study has been successful, it does not feel like a success to have found microplastic in the gut of every single turtle we have investigated.

“From our work over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, dolphins and now turtles.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas and maintain clean, healthy and productive oceans for future generations.”

Louise Edge, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “This important research demonstrates the breadth of our plastics pollution problem.

“Our society’s addiction to throwaway plastic is fuelling a global environmental crisis that must be tackled at source.”

 

The paper, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is entitled: “Microplastic ingestion ubiquitous in marine turtles.”

Featured image: All 102 sea turtles necropsied by scientists were found to have ingested plastics. Kirt Edblom / CC BY-SA 2.0

University of Exeter, 5 December 2018

https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_695428_en.html

Dead whale found with stomach full of plastic: 115 cups, 2 flip-flops and much, much more

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A dead whale that washed ashore in eastern Indonesia had a large lump of plastic waste in its stomach, including drinking cups and flip-flops, a park official said Tuesday, causing concern among environmentalists and government officials in one of the world’s largest plastic polluting countries.Rescuers from Wakatobi National Park found the rotting carcass of the 9.5-meter sperm whale late Monday near the park in Southeast Sulawesi province after receiving a report from environmentalists that villagers had surrounded the dead whale and were beginning to butcher the rotting carcass, park chief Heri Santoso said.Santoso said researchers from wildlife conservation group WWF and the park’s conservation academy found about 5.9 kilograms of plastic waste in the animal’s stomach containing 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops, a nylon sack and more than 1,000 other assorted pieces of plastic.
The dead whale that washed ashore in eastern Indonesia had a large lump of plastic waste in its stomach, causing concern among environmentalists and government officials in one of the world’s largest plastic polluting countries. Muhammad Irpan Sejati Tassakka via AP / AP
“Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful,” said Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF Indonesia.She said it was not possible to determine if the plastic had caused the whale’s death because of the animal’s advanced state of decay.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 260 million people, is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China, according to a study published in the journal Science in January. It produces 3.2 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste a year, of which 1.29 million tons ends up in the ocean, the study said.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s co-ordinating minister of maritime affairs, said the whale’s discovery should raise public awareness about the need to reduce plastic use, and had spurred the government to take tougher measures to protect the ocean.

Indonesia in one of the world’s largest plastic polluting countries. Muhammad Irpan Sejati Tassakka via AP / AP

“I’m so sad to hear this,” said Pandjaitan, who recently has campaigned for less use of plastic. “It is possible that many other marine animals are also contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives.”

He said the government is making efforts to reduce the use of plastic, including urging shops not to provide plastic bags for customers and teaching about the problem in schools nationwide to meet a government target of reducing plastic use by 70 percent by 2025.

“This big ambition can be achieved if people learn to understand that plastic waste is a common enemy,” he told The Associated Press.

 

The Associated Press

November 20, 2018

Dead whale found with stomach full of plastic: 115 cups, 2 flip-flops and much, much more

 

FEATURED IMAGE: Researchers remove plastic waste from the stomach of a beached whale at Wakatobi National Park in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Muhammad Irpan Sejati Tassakka via AP / AP

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé found to be worst plastic polluters worldwide in global cleanups and brand audits

Manila, Philippines – Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé were the most frequent companies identified in 239 cleanups and brand audits spanning 42 countries and six continents, the Break Free From Plastic movement announced today. Coca-Cola was the top plastic polluter in the global audit, with Coke-branded plastic pollution found in 40 of the 42 participating countries.

Over 187,000 pieces of plastic trash were audited, identifying thousands of brands whose packaging relies on the single-use plastics that pollute our oceans and waterways globally.  This brand audit effort is the most comprehensive snapshot of the worst plastic polluter companies around the world.

These brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis,” said Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic Von Hernandez. “By continuing to churn out problematic and unrecyclable throwaway plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up and stop shifting the blame to citizens for their wasteful and polluting products.”

The audits, led by Break Free From Plastic member organizations, found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive were the most frequent multinational brands collected in cleanups, in that order. This ranking of multinational companies included only brands that were found in at least ten of the 42 participating countries. Overall, polystyrene, which is not recyclable in most locations, was the most common type of plastic found, followed closely by PET, a material used in bottles, containers, and other packaging.

The top polluters in Asia, according to the analysis, were Coca-Cola, Perfetti van Melle, and Mondelez International brands. These brands accounted for 30 percent of all branded plastic pollution counted by volunteers across Asia. This year’s brand audits throughout Asia build upon a week-long cleanup and audit at the Philippines’ Freedom Island in 2017, which found Nestlé and Unilever to be the top polluters.

“We pay the price for multinational companies’ reliance on cheap throwaway plastic,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines Campaigner Abigail Aguilar. “We are the ones forced to clean up their plastic pollution in our streets and waterways. In the Philippines, we can clean entire beaches and the next day they are just as polluted with plastics. Through brand audits, we can name some of the worst polluters and demand that they stop producing plastic to begin with.”

In North and South America, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 64 and 70 percent of all the branded plastic pollution, respectively.

“In Latin America, brand audits put responsibility on the companies that produce useless plastics and the governments that allow corporations to place the burden, from extraction to disposal, in mostly vulnerable and poor communities,” said GAIA Coordinator for Latin America Magdalena Donoso. “BFFP members in Latin America are exposing this crisis  and promoting zero waste strategies in connection with our communities.”

In Europe, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were again the top identified polluters, accounting for 45 percent of the plastic pollution found in the audits there. In Australia, 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 82 percent of the plastic pollution found. And finally, in Africa, ASAS Group, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble brands were the top brands collected, accounting for 74 percent of the plastic pollution there.

“These brand audits are putting responsibility back where it belongs, with the corporations producing endless amounts of plastics that end up in the Indian Ocean,” said Griffins Ochieng, Programmes Coordinator for the Centre for Environment Justice and Development in Kenya. “We held cleanups and brand audits in two locations in Kenya to identify the worst corporate polluters in the region and hold them accountable. It is more urgent than ever, for the sake of communities that rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, health and well-being, to break free from plastic.”

Bread Free From Plastic is calling on corporations to reduce their use of single-use plastic, redesign delivery systems to minimize or eliminate packaging, and take responsibility for the plastic pollution they are pumping into already strained waste management systems and the environment. While the brand audits do not provide a complete picture of companies’ plastic pollution footprints, they are the best indication to date of the worst plastic polluters globally.

 

Notes:

For the entire set of results, please find Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit report here: https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/globalbrandauditreport2018/

[1] Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,300 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.breakfreefromplastic.org

Photo and video:

For photo and video from brand audits around the world, click here: https://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJWQQ88P

 

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé found to be worst plastic polluters worldwide in global cleanups and brand audits

FEATURED IMAGE: A Greenpeace diver holds a banner reading “Coca-Cola is this yours?” and a Coke bottle found adrift in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Even hundreds of kilometres from any inhabited land, plastic can be found polluting our environment. © Justin Hofman / Greenpeace

 

Notes:

For the entire set of results, please find Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit report here: https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/globalbrandauditreport2018/

[1] Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,300 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.breakfreefromplastic.org

Plastic Bag Found at the Bottom of the Mariana Trench – the World’s Deepest Ocean Trench

THE MARIANA TRENCH—THE deepest point in the ocean—extends nearly 36,000 feet (10,989 meters) down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, but it has not escaped from the global onslaught of plastic pollution.  A recent study revealed that a plastic bag, like the kind given away at grocery stores, is now the deepest known piece of plastic trash.  The discovery is one of 3,000 pieces of man-made debris dating back 30 years.

Scientists found it by looking through the Deep-Sea Debris Database, a collection of photos and videos taken from 5,010 dives from numerous international teams working around the world over the past 30 years and using deep-sea remote vehicles to help study the ocean beds to discover what lies beneath.

Of the classifiable debris logged in the database, plastic was the most prevalent, and plastic bags in particular made up the greatest source of plastic trash. Other debris came from material like rubber, metal, wood, and cloth, and some is yet to be classified.

Most of the plastic—a whopping 89 percent—was the type of plastic that is used once and then thrown away, like a plastic water bottle or disposable utensil.

While the Mariana Trench may seem like a dark, lifeless pit, it hosts more life than you might think. NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer vessel searched the region’s depths in 2016 and found diverse life-forms, including species like coral, jellyfish, and octopus. The recent study also found that 17 percent of the images of plastic logged in the database showed interactions of some kind with marine life, like animals becoming entangled in the debris.

The new study is just one among many showing just how prevalent plastic pollution has become worldwide. Single-use plastics are virtually everywhere, and they may take hundreds of years or more to break down once in the wild.

Last February, a separate study showed that the Mariana Trench has higher levels of overall pollution in certain regions than some of the most polluted rivers in China. The study’s authors theorized that the chemical pollutants in the trench may have come in part from the breakdown of plastic in the water column. . . .

FEATURED IMAGE: This April 22, 2016, image made available by NOAA shows a plastic ice bag found at the Enigma Seamount, during a deepwater exploration of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument area in the Pacific Ocean near Guam and Saipan. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP

 

By Sarah Gibbons, National Geographic

May 11, 2018

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/plastic-bag-mariana-trench-pollution-science-spd/

Additional information from: The Telegraph

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/09/worlds-deepest-plastic-bag-found-bottom-mariana-trench-highlighting/ May 10, 2018

SEE ALSO:

Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in Antarctica

https://oceanchampions.ca/1563-2/ ‎

Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastic frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments.

Analysis of ice cores from across the Arctic region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought.  Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals.

Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study.

“Nowhere is immune.”

AWI scientist Julia Gutermann analysing an Arctic sea ice core for microplastic particles in a lab at the AWI Helgoland (Tristan Vankann)

Dr Peeken and her team at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research collected ice core samples over the course of three expeditions on the research icebreaker Polarstern.  Their voyages covered five regions along the Transpolar Drift and Fram Strait, which channel sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Not only is polar sea ice acting as a store for ocean plastic that could potentially be released as global temperatures get warmer due to climate change, the movement of sea ice could be depositing microplastics in areas that were previously plastic-free.

The researchers analysed their samples using a device known as a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer.  This enabled them to examine the ice cores layer by layer and in great detail, working out the origins of even the tiniest shards of plastic.

“What is interesting also is you have very localised sources – ship paint particles and cigarette butts and stuff like that,” said Dr Peeken. “We also see polyethylene, a very light polymer which is found in really high numbers particularly in the Central Arctic. We think that there is an incoming flow from the Pacific so that could show that is coming from that region.

“We see a large impact of plastic pollution coming from the urban areas – a lot is coming from the Atlantic and from the Pacific.”

In their paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists speculate that this polyethylene could originate from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre. . . .

In ice cores collected in Siberia, the predominant forms of microplastic included paint particles from ships and nylon waste from fishing nets.

Over half the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, meaning they could easily be ingested by small Arctic creatures.

“While we don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of microplastics on the health of the marine environment or humans, the growing body of evidence suggests microplastic pollution is a contaminant of environmental and economic concern,” said Dr Pennie Lindeque, lead plastics scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was not involved with the study.

“As microplastics can look like prey for marine animals and are small in size they may be eaten by a wide range of species, from zooplankton – small animals at the base of the food web –  to seabird and whales, potentially impacting marine ecosystems and the food chain.”

Other scientists welcomed the research as “a benchmark study” that demonstrated the extent to which plastics both big and small have covered the world.  However, given the scale of the global plastic crisis, they said its conclusions did not come as a surprise.

Professor Richard Thompson, an ocean plastic researcher at the University of Plymouth who first coined the use of the term microplastics, said this study builds on work he conducted to establish their concentration in Arctic ice.  “The study reinforces what is already clear to many marine scientists – that plastic debris is a highly persistent form of contamination that can accumulate in considerable concentrations even in remote locations far from the likely points of entry to the ocean. What is increasingly clear is the urgency with which we need to take steps to halt the flow of plastic debris to the ocean.

“A key priority in my view is interdisciplinary research focused on delivering appropriate evidence to inform industry and policy on the most appropriate solutions.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean ( Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Rüdiger Stein )

 

By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent

April 14, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-pollution-arctic-sea-ice-microplastics-ocean-environment-a8319951.html

Yet Another Dead Whale Is Grave Reminder Of Our Massive Plastic Problem

A sperm whale was found washed ashore dead after swallowing 64 pounds of plastic debris. The male sperm whale was found on the Murcian coast in southern Spain in late February, reminding us how critical plastic waste in the oceans has become.

After investigating, the El Valle Wildlife Rescue Center determined that the sperm whale was killed by gastric shock to its stomach and intestines after ingesting 64 pounds of plastic. The autopsy found plastic bags, nets, ropes, plastic sacks, and even a plastic jerrycan in the whale’s stomach and intestines.

Experts found the inner walls of the whale’s abdomen to be inflamed due to a bacterial or fungal infection. This is likely a result of the whale unable to expel the plastics from its system, resulting in peritonitis.

The male sperm whale, an endangered species protected in the US under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, weighed over 6 tonnes and measured 33 feet long. Sperm whales typically eat squid and live around the same lifespan as humans, averaging 70 years.

As a result of the whale’s death, the Murcia government launched a campaign against dumping plastic waste into the coastal town’s water. The coastal community is working to raise awareness of the ever-growing plastic problem in the oceans and the need for beach cleaning.

 It is becoming increasingly clear that plastic in our oceans is a core threat to marine life in the decades to come.  Approximately 5 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to be floating around the world’s oceans based on a recent study. To make matters worse, marine experts believe the total weight of plastic in our oceans could outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
With an increasing amount of plastic discarded in oceans, whale deaths due to ingestion of plastics are becoming far too common… To cope with this dilemma, many countries around the world are phasing out single-use plastic bags as typically seen in grocery stores. Below is a map of where countries are in their phasing out of low-density polyethylene plastic bags.
  • Green indicates plastic bags are banned
  • Yellow indicates a tax on some plastic bags
  • Orange indicates a voluntary tax agreement
  • Purple indicates a partial tax or ban at a regional level

  Countries that are phasing out single-use plastic bags (Wikipedia)

The European Union is pushing a transition to have all plastic recyclable or reusable by 2030 with many agencies around the world discussing phasing out non-biodegradable plastics completely.

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

Yet Another Dead Whale Is Grave Reminder Of Our Massive Plastic Problem

Trevor Nance, Forbes, Science, April 9, 2018

https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/09/yet-another-dead-whale-is-grave-reminder-of-our-massive-plastic-problem/#baaeb156cd23

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