Long-term survival of human faecal microorganisms on the Antarctic Peninsula
Human faecal waste has been discarded at inland Antarctic sites for over 100 years, but little is known about the long-term survival of faecal microorganisms in the Antarctic terrestrial environment or the environmental impact. This study identified viable faecal microorganisms in 30-40 year old human faeces sampled from the waste dump at Fossil Bluff Field Station, Alexander Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Viable aerobic and anaerobic bacteria were predominantly spore-forming varieties (Bacillus and Clostridium spp.). Faecal coliform bacteria were not detected, indicating that they are less able to survive Antarctic environmental conditions than spore-forming bacteria. In recent years, regional warming around the Antarctic Peninsula has caused a decrease in permanent snow cover around nunataks and coastal regions. As a result, previously buried toilet pits, depots and food dumps are now melting out and Antarctic Treaty Parties face the legacy of waste dumped in the Antarctic terrestrial environment by earlier expeditions. Previous faecal waste disposal on land may now start to produce detectable environmental pollution as well as potential health and scientific problems.