Close encounters – microplastic availability to pelagic amphipods in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic surface waters
This study investigated the distribution of plastic debris from the Atlantic portion of the Sub-Antarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula. This region is home to some of the highest concentrations of zooplankton biomass but is also threatened by increasing shipping traffic from fishing and the growing tourism market. Samples were collected using a surface-towed neuston net during the Austral summer 2018, aboard the RRS James Clark Ross. Using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometry it was found that 45.6% of the plastic particles isolated from seawater samples were sampling contamination, originating predominantly from the ship. Of the remaining particles, both low density (polyethylene, polypropylene) and high-density (phenoxy and epoxy resins) polymers were found in the surface water suggesting both long-range and local sources of origin. Whilst we found that micro and mesoplastic concentrations in seawater were significantly low (0.013 ± 0.005n/m3) compared to global averages, they were higher along the Antarctic Peninsula than the open ocean (Sub-Antarctic) stations. The potential availability of micro and mesoplastics (MP) to pelagic amphipods was explored, using an observed encounter rate (OER) and a possible encounter rate (PER). The total OER (0.8%) was higher than the PER (0.15%), suggesting that even at low concentrations, microplastics are encountered, and potentially consumed, by amphipods. This study highlights the need to prioritise regions of high zooplankton abundance and to investigate both water and biota to build up a picture of plastic pollution and its potential interaction with the Antarctic Ecosystem.
Authors: Jones-Williams, Kirstie, Galloway, Tamara, Cole, Matthew, Stowasser, Gabriele ORCID record for Gabriele Stowasser, Waluda, Claire, Manno, Clara ORCID record for Clara Manno