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Environmental monitoring in Antarctica

Environmental monitoring is essential in Antarctica to allow assessment of the impacts of human activities. Examples of the this monitoring work carried out by BAS are given below.

Long term monitoring of macroplastics and debris in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic

We have recorded cases of marine mammals entangled in man-made debris since the 1970s. Most entanglements have been Antarctic fur seals caught in plastic packaging bands, synthetic line and fishing nets. We have also observed levels of beached debris year-round at Bird Island since 1989 with over 9,000 items of recovered up until present day. Researchers have monitored the levels of plastics and other debris found in association with birds and their nests at Bird Island Research Station since 1992. Plastics have been found affecting 12 species of seabirds. Items include fishing lines, squid jigs and floats, plastic wrappers, bags and bottle tops, likely to have been taken by birds whilst floating on the ocean surface and mistaken for natural prey.

Detecting and monitoring microplastics in Polar Regions

Recent surveys of microplastics in marine sediments near Rothera Research Station found concentrations were highest near the research station sewage outfall with microplastic particles being detected at lower concentrations or absent altogether at more distant locations. Other ongoing work in the Arctic and Antarctic is looking for microplastics in beach sediments and the water column.

Sewage outfall monitoring, Rothera Station

Until 2003, untreated sewage was discharged into the sea from Rothera Station. Monitoring of the receiving water before and after installation of a biological treatment plant showed a dramatic reduction in the sewage plume as indicated by faecal coliforms.

Concentrations of heavy metals in lichens and marine bivalves around Rothera Research Station

Concentrations of lead, zinc, cadmium and other heavy metals in lichens and marine bivalves are measured. The results are used to assess whether any observed pollution is due to station activities, and to determine the area of contamination.

Skua Population trends and demography

The impact of Rothera Research Station on the local South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki) population has been monitored since 1999, including trends in breeding numbers, laying dates, clutch size, egg dimensions, chick growth and breeding success. The monitoring was expanded in the 2007/08 season to also include resighting of colour-ringed adults, used to estimate adult survival, breeding frequency and divorce rates. In addition, there is some monitoring of birds on Anchorage Island, which act as controls.