Thirty years of marine debris in the Southern Ocean: Annual surveys of two island shores in the Scotia Sea

Last modified: 
January 16, 2020 - 10:16am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2020
Date published: 03/2020
Authors: Claire Waluda, Iain Staniland, Michael Dunn, Sally Thorpe, Emily Grilly, Mari Whitelaw, Kevin Hughes
Journal title: Environment International
Volume: 136
Pages: 105460
ISSN: 01604120

We report on three decades of repeat surveys of beached marine debris at two locations in the Scotia Sea, in the Southwest Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. Between October 1989 and March 2019 10,112 items of beached debris were recovered from Main Bay, Bird Island, South Georgia in the northern Scotia Sea. The total mass of items (data from 1996 onwards) was 101 kg. Plastic was the most commonly recovered item (97.5% by number; 89% by mass) with the remainder made up of fabric, glass, metal, paper and rubber. Mean mass per item was 0.01 kg and the rate of accumulation was 100 items km−1 month−1. Analyses showed an increase in the number of debris items recovered (5.7 per year) but a decline in mean mass per item, suggesting a trend towards more, smaller items of debris at Bird Island. At Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, located in the southern Scotia Sea and within the Antarctic Treaty area, debris items were collected from three beaches, during the austral summer only, between 1991 and 2019. In total 1304 items with a mass of 268 kg were recovered. Plastic items contributed 84% by number and 80% by mass, with the remainder made up of metal (6% by number; 14% by mass), rubber (4% by number; 3% by mass), fabric, glass and paper (<1% by number; 3% by mass). Mean mass per item was 0.2 kg and rate of accumulation was 3 items km−1 month−1. Accumulation rates were an order of magnitude higher on the western (windward) side of the island (13–17 items km−1 month−1) than the eastern side (1.5 items km−1 month−1). Analyses showed a slight decline in number and slight increase in mean mass of debris items over time at Signy Island. This study highlights the prevalence of anthropogenic marine debris (particularly plastic) in the Southern Ocean. It shows the importance of long-term monitoring efforts in attempting to catalogue marine debris and identify trends, and serves warning of the urgent need for a wider understanding of the extent of marine debris across the whole of the Southern Ocean.

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