Microplastics in the Southern Ocean: Findings from the Continuous Plankton Recorder in the Ross Sea and the East Antarctic Regions
Microplastics are extremely abundant and widely distributed in the marine environment. Recently they have been found in the Southern Ocean around the continent of Antarctica. Research from around the world has begun to demonstrate that microplastics can have detrimental effects on marine organisms. There is almost no information about how microplastics might affect Antarctic marine species. The present article reviews the current state of knowledge about microplastics in the Southern Ocean. The growing alarm about the ubiquitous nature of microplastic pollution has led the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) to recommend that the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) be used as a source of information about microplastics in the Southern Ocean. The CPR analysts from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric research (NIWA) have been collecting a limited amount of data about microplastics alongside their primary research on plankton since 2008. Their data is presented for the first time in this report. The findings support the growing body of evidence that demonstrates the pervasiveness of microplastics, even in remote places such as the Southern Ocean. The findings also demonstrate that while the CPR has some value, it is not the ideal tool for understanding the abundance, distribution and impacts of microplastics on the Antarctic marine ecosystem. There needs to be a more formal protocol for the identification and reporting of microplastics from the CPR. Furthermore, a deliberate and comprehensive survey of the potential sources of microplastics needs to occur, using higher-powered techniques such as FTIR or Ramen spectroscopy for the identification and characterisation of microplastics. We also call for urgent studies that seek to understand how microplastics will affect Antarctic marine organisms, especially the key-stone species, which appear to have the greatest exposure to microplastic pollution.