Tag Archives: Adélie penguins

MORE ON CONTAMINANTS AND PLASTICS IN ANTARCTICA

27 Jun

Dr. Edward Wilson sent back penguins’ skins to England from Antarctica in the early 1900s. These skins were the controls when, in the 1960s, an investigation was undertaken on the presence of contaminants in Antarctica.

In 1964, Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT), an insecticide very widely used at the time, was found in Adélie penguin skins. DDT gets into birds and larger animals via the krill that they ingest. DDT is known to persist in the environment and was banned: in America in the 1970s, in England in the 1980s and by the Stockholm convention, signed in 2001. Clearly it was hoped that levels of DDT in Antarctica would drop significantly over time, but disappointingly the compound was found in the sea around the Antarctic Peninsula 6 meters below the sea surface in 1975, and can be still found in penguin fat. A suggested explanation for this is that 1960s airborne particles became trapped in Antarctic glaciers and now as the ice sheets melt, the chemical is released back into the environment.

Now the same problem has been discovered with plastics and other chemicals.

In relation to plastics, researchers have found recently that water and snow collected in the Antarctic contain microplastics such as microfibers/ microbeads.

MICROFIBERS are finer than a human hair and are found, blended with synthetic or natural fibers, in clothes, knitwear and carpets. They get into the ocean through litter and are virtually indestructible. Some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce. MICROBEADS are tiny particles of hard plastics that are used in cosmetics, for instance as an abrasive in skin cleaners. These are flushed down the drain after use, instantly forgotten, but lasting for decades.

In relation to chemicals seven of nine snow samples contained concentrations of perfluorinated-alkylated substances (PFAS). These are stain, water and grease repellent chemicals that are found in a wide range of consumer products which have, apparently, been linked to problems in animal reproduction They reach the Antarctic in rain and snow (as did DDT).

Plastics and chemicals are now generally recognized as one of our biggest environmental threats. But in spite of well -publicized solutions adopted by many countries, it remains an enormous challenge.

 

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT ANTARCTICA?

An agreement was reached in 2016 by delegates from 24 countries and the

European Union, that the Ross Sea would become the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA). It is an area of 1.57m sq. km (600,000 sq. miles and will protect the area from commercial fishing for 35 years – of particular importance is the industrial-scale krill fishing which decimates the main food supply for many larger animals.

The Ross Sea, its shelf and slope are home to 38% of the world’s Adélie penguins, 30% of the world’s Antarctic Petrels and around 6% of the world’s population of Antarctic Minkie Whales. The fishing-free zone would protect these species and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Ross Sea marine protected area came into force on 11/12/2017.

Naval ships are monitoring the area.

This is a most important development for the future protection of the area. Edward Wilson and his colleagues would have approved.

 

 

Advertisements