We’ve all heard of the Pacific garbage patch, but now researchers are noticing pieces of plastic debris showing up in the waters around Antarctica.While on a plankton-studying mission, which discovered over 1 million new species of the tiny animals, researchers started noticing a startlingly large amount of plastic — 50,000 fragments per square kilometer — in the Southern Ocean, the waters encircling Antarctica. This is about 10 times higher than they expected to find.
“We had always assumed that this was a pristine environment, very little touched by human beings,” said Chris Bowler, scientific co-ordinator of the Tara Oceans project, told the Guardian. “The fact that we found these plastics is a sign that the reach of human beings is truly planetary in scale.”
“Discovering plastic at these very high levels was completely unexpected because the Southern Ocean is relatively separated from the world’s other oceans and does not normally mix with them,” Bowler continued. “It’s too late to do much about what’s already out there at this stage, as this stuff is going to hang around for thousands of years.”
Researchers think the plastic drifted from Australia, Africa and South America. This plastic is mistakenly eaten by wildlife, and can emit toxic chemicals while drifting around in sunlight and salty water.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.