2018, ANTARCTICA AND THE OCEANS, WHERE DOES THE DETRITUS COME FROM?

6 Jan

Explorers of the early 1900 would be both taken aback and fascinated by the many changes and advances that have taken place in the past century – the scientific advances would enthuse them, climate change would not surprise them. Damage to the food chains that supply wild life and fish would concern them deeply, the detritus that has built up in the hitherto pristine oceans and the beaches and interior of Antarctica would outrage them.

The ‘Antarctic Treaty Protocol on Environmental Protection’ (ref), that aims to protect Antarctica, stipulates what can and can’t be left on the continent. But in spite of this agreement pollution continues. Antarctica is particularly sensitive to this problem because of its freezing temperatures — natural processes that remove waste in other parts of the world function slowly in the cold and this increases the build up of waste. For example organic material that would have disappeared in months in warmer environments can take decades to decay in Antarctica,

The biodiversity in the Antarctic – the mosses, lichens, algae, penguins, seals, and migratory birds – that attracts researchers, their support teams and tourists, results in all the problems that go with a permanent human settlement. Most research takes place during Antarctica’s summer season when the human population swells to around 5,000 scientists and support staff. An additional 25,000 – 30,000 people visit the area as tourists during this time (during the winter the population decreases to about 1,000). It is reported that research stations still contribute to the problem.

Clearly, a conflict of interest between an emphasis on science and tourism can develop in many ways – one small example, tyre treads of vehicles that veer from designated tracks can gouge up sparse vegetation that has taken years to establish. Boot prints will damage the delicate cold-climate moss-banks. When I went to the Peninsula I was given very strict instructions as to where I could, or could not, walk and in the areas we were allowed to explore we tried to walk in the footsteps of the person directly ahead – the penguins must have considered our single file as a strange species of penguin. In some cases the very biodiversity that researchers came to investigate has been threatened by invasive species they, or tourists, have inadvertently carried.

The effect of casual pollution remains a threat. There is still a large amount of rubbish including metal items, oil and other fuels and plastics in a variety of locations. In the past when a station was no longer needed, valuable items were removed, but everything else was left behind. This image shows some abandoned machinery, sleds, vehicles, oil drums and buildings in at what used to be a Russian base, closed in 1991. Although today these items would be removed, there are other similar examples.

http://www.coolantarctica.com/antarctica fact file/science/abandoned.jpg

More generally, the production world wide of synthetic polymers, plastics, is a rapidly increasing long-term threat to marine life – albatrosses, fulmars, shearwaters and petrels mistake floating plastics for food. Over forty percent of seabirds are known to ingest this plastic. Also seals as well as birds get tangled up in lines. Plastic bands can get caught around animals’ necks, causing injury, infection and, very likely, a long and slow death. A recent ‘Blue Planet’ graphically illustrated these problems. Ben Fogle has written in the ‘Geographical’ (November 2017, p.15), that plastic debris is accidentally transporting creatures for thousands of miles from their usual habitat on makeshift plastic ‘rafts’ – about 300 species have reached the US from Japan on marine debris; yet Coca Cola has increased production of its throw- away plastic bottles.

It has been reported that 95% of plastic polluting the world’s oceans comes from just TEN rivers including the Ganges and Niger. Container Ships multiply the problem. These huge ships are the length of about six football pitches – it is said that if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked as the sixth biggest contributor to global CO2 emissions worldwide. Pollution problems originate when the ships are far from land (therefore difficult to identify the source without Satellite surveillance) and the situation is made worse (particularly in relation to wild life) as the industry apparently uses bunker oil (the dregs from the refinery process), which is heavy, toxic, does not evaporate, gives off sulphur and is poisonous to fish and crustaceans. The Shipping Industry is investigating alternative sources of energy, such as liquefied natural gas, some form of carbon capture, or simply slowing down, but it is thought nothing will be definitively agreed without further international legislation.

The hole in the ozone layer was recorded in the 1980s. The ozone LAYER is found in the lower stratosphere at about 20 to 30 kilometers. The ozone HOLE is a thinning of this layer that allows harmful ultra violet light to get through the earth’s atmosphere over the South Pole during the Antarctic Spring. It was enlarged by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) being pumped into the atmosphere by the industrialized world over a long time period. Enforced reduction of CFC emissions has reduced the hole in the ozone layer but it still remains, the best example of pollutants that are produced in one place, having their effects in another.

So the oceans, wildlife, and Antarctica itself remain in need of further proactive protection.

The Antarctic Treaty Protocol can be reviewed in four years, but will members have the will to agree to reinforce, develop and enforce the safe guards of 1991 treaty, to ensure that contamination of the oceans that surround Antarctica will be significantly cleared from man-made contamination?

Individual contributions, though small, will help in total.
Some suggestions:

1) Avoid supermarkets, which do not support ‘plastic free aisles’.
2) Buy loose fruit/vegetables in markets or local stores
3) Continue to support development of transport that do not produce any liquid or gaseous pollution. Support a significant levy on use of historic transportation.
4) Do not buy products wrapped in ‘disposable’ plastic

REF. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, Madrid. 1991

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