Plastic pollution in the Arctic Ocean

By Dafnne Wejebe Iberri.

Our oceans have become a huge waste bin. Plastic pollution in our oceans is a serious problem that many have been fighting to stop for years now. Plastics in our oceans affect all marine life: from animals getting straws stuck in their noses or mouths to fish and other marine life ending up tangled in plastic or fishing nets where they will likely die.

One of the few places where plastic pollution had not yet become an issue was the Arctic Ocean. Sadly, now the Arctic is also seeing a huge influx of plastic waste.

Image: Andres Cortazar

According to a research study called “The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation” published by Science Advances in 2017 (http://ow.ly/en0H30dm8od) ocean currents have taken significant amounts of plastic to the Greenland Sea, polluting its surface and its depths. While we humans are the ones that are causing this pollution, we are the ones that can help stop it.

Scientist from “The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation” found: “The total load of floating plastic for the ice-free waters of the Arctic Ocean was estimated to range from around 100 to 1200 tons, with 400 tons composed of an estimated 300 billion plastic items as a midrange estimate.”

It isn’t easy to understand how nature works, but if there is something we know for sure, is that if we keep using the oceans as a place to dump our waste, we will experience negative consequences. A phenomenon of nature is, of course, involved in all of this. Termohalina is a sea current which develops depending on water temperature. This is when global warming gets strongly involved. While the sea current keeps taking warm water to the Arctic Ocean, it will drag with it all the plastic waste that gets stuck in land masses.

This increase was discovered through modeling of ocean currents that helps to predict whether plastic waste will continue to accumulate in the Arctic Ocean. Three percent of the world’s plastic pollution has made its way to the Arctic Ocean, but the study’s authors suggest that this amount will increase.

The researchers found that most of the plastic waste comes from the north of the Atlantic, therefore we need to start solving the problem there.

Some solutions are simple: we know that plastic, glass, bottles, toys and other plastic is ending up in our precious oceans and we can prevent this by simply acting more responsibly. If we avoid using bottled water, plastic bags, products containing microscopic plastic pellets, we can help prevent these from ending up there in the first place. We can also at more responsibly when disposing of our waste. Recycling plastics and glass and ensuring that other countries do the same will help to solve this problem.

The challenges a polluted Arctic poses are tough, but they are also a call to action to save our oceans and to fight for those marine species that need human action to survive. Let’s spread the word; we need clean oceans and marine species to survive, to thrive ourselves, and to have a healthy world. It is time to take action and keep plastic pollution out of our oceans.