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ESR expert on discovery of microplastics in Antarctic snow

29 June 2022

Plastic pollution
Optimising The Process For Microplastic Analysis
Optimising The Process For Microplastic Analysis

ESR Senior Scientist Dr Olga Pantos gives expert reaction to research showing the presence of microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow.

"Microplastics are being found in every environment, every ecosystem, and every species so far tested. This includes in some of the most remote and uninhabited places on earth. So this study, sadly, confirms what we expected.

"It really is impossible for any organism to now avoid the impacts of human activity, similar to the way that all environments and organisms are impacted by human-driven climate change. Plastic pollution (of all sizes) not only is an impact on the scale of climate change, but also is intimately entwined with it – from the extraction of fossil fuels for plastic production to the recently-identified role atmospheric microplastic particles play in the reflection and trapping of heat.

"While research around the impacts of nano- and microplastics is still in its infancy, they are being seen to affect organisms and ecosystems in a variety of ways. It is therefore of concern that yet another remote ecosystem is exposed to more impacts resulting from human activity.

"Until some significant steps are taken to reduce the use and management of plastics, the levels of plastic pollution in the environment is going to continue to rise, and the levels of nano- and microplastics will continue to rise for a significant period, as all the plastic already out there continues to fragment, but doesn’t really go away completely.

"This highlights the need for the UN’s global treaty to ban plastic pollution. Treaties, policies, and regulations each take time, but we can all do a lot of things today that change and reduce the pressure of plastic pollution upon the environment - of which we are a part," says Olga.

Olga has been on several research expeditions seeking to understand the prevalence of microplastic pollution in Aotearoa coastal waters: