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Rising levels of plastic waste on Arctic seafloor alarming

Recent research reveals that even remote areas of the oceans are affected by increasing levels of plastic waste on the seafloor. The study found that quantities of litter from human activities, mostly plastic, on the seabed of an isolated Arctic site, doubled from 2002 to 2011.

Around 60% of the Earth’s surface is covered by the seafloor, yet very little is known about how pollution has affected the deep ocean, in particular, remote areas such as the Arctic. Despite a ban on solid waste disposal at sea in 1988, under Annex V of the MARPOL Convention1, research has revealed that even the most isolated environments are no longer free from litter.

Most sea litter is made up of plastic waste and more than 10% of the global production of plastics (over 265 million tonnes every year) ends up in the oceans, where it may remain for centuries and can cause potential danger to marine life through entanglement and suffocation. ‘Microplastics’, tiny particles of broken-down plastics, can also release a range of chemicals known to be harmful in high concentrations. These chemicals can be ingested by marine animals, including commercially-harvested prawns, mussels and fish, and enter the human food chain.

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