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SOURCE: Nexus Media

DATE: October 17, 2018

SNIP: Thirty years ago, the ocean waters surrounding British islands in the South Atlantic were near-pristine. But plastic waste has increased a hundredfold since then, and is ten times greater than it was a decade ago. These islands — part of the British Overseas Territories, which includes established or proposed Marine Protection Areas — are among the most remote on the planet. Yet they no longer are immune to the kind of pollution fouling industrialized North Atlantic coasts, a fact that portends dire consequences, according to new research.

The plastic is of many types and from many sources, including debris blown in from landfills, trash tossed out by thoughtless beachgoers, detritus from the shipping and fishing industries, and other bits and bobs carried off by severe storms or other accidents, according to Barnes. “Millions of microplastics can form from degradation of a single larger piece, such as a plastic bag,” he said.

[D]egrading plastics emit such greenhouse gases like methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight, further worsening climate change. “Climate change is tied up with plastic as a threat to biodiversity — life on Earth — in a number of different ways,” said Barnes, lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Current Biology.

Andy Schofield, a biologist with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and one of the researchers on the project, agreed. “These islands and the ocean around them are sentinels of our planet’s health,” he said. “It is heart-breaking watching Albatrosses trying to eat plastic thousands of miles from anywhere. This is a very big wake up call. Inaction threatens not just endangered birds and whale sharks, but the ecosystems many islanders rely on for food supply and health.”

The amount of plastic that has reached these regions increased at all levels, from the shore to the seafloor, according to the scientists. More than 90 percent of beached debris was plastic, and the volume of this debris is the highest recorded in the last decade, they said.