More than 390 million tons of plastic waste plague the world’s oceans, degrading marine and coastal Study area, islands and seamounts (blue italic). Source: British Antarctic SurveyStudy area, islands and seamounts (blue italic). Source: British Antarctic Surveyecosystems and penetrating food chains. The reach of such plastic pollution is more extensive than previously thought: British Antarctic Survey researchers have determined, for the first time, that plastic pollution on some remote South Atlantic beaches is approaching levels seen in industrialized North Atlantic coasts.

Analysis of water, seabed and biota during four research cruises completed between 2013 and 2018 revealed the amount of plastic reaching the remote British Overseas Territories has increased at all levels, from the shore to the seafloor. More than 90% of beached debris was plastic, and the volume of this debris is the highest recorded in the last decade.

In 2018, the team documented up to 300 items/m of shoreline on East Falkland and St. Helena, which is 10 times higher than recorded a decade ago. Microplastic fragments — those smaller than 5 mm — comprised 35% of items, followed by plastic bottles, fishing-related items and films. The weathered condition of the waste indicated that more than 70% of plastic fragments were of non-local origin.

The study findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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