Marine debris surveys at Bird Island, South Georgia 1990–1995
The Antarctic marine environment has relatively few direct sources of man-made marine debris; however, there is concern over the dangers posed to wildlife by increasing amounts of such debris. Between 1990 and 1995 beached debris was monitored at Bird Island, South Georgia. This was part of a programme developed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to monitor compliance with waste disposal under MARPOL and the effectiveness of additional regulations to reduce entanglement of marine mammals and birds. Overall, and in all but one year, the highest incidence of debris occurred during the winter months when 75% of all items were collected. The most numerous category overall (76%), and in all samples since 1991, was pieces of synthetic line as used in the long-line fishery for the Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides around South Georgia. Packaging bands (6%) and polythene bags (6%) were the next commonest items. There was a substantial increase in the number of items found ashore in 1995 which coincided with an apparent increase in the long-line fishing effort in the area. The increase in the incidence of synthetic line found ashore corresponds to the increase in the proportion of Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella entangled in this material at South Georgia in a parallel study. An increasing use of environmentally-aware scientific observers on all fishing vessels, leading to an increased awareness of existing legislation, should result in less man-made debris entering the marine environment in the area around South Georgia.
Authors: Walker, T.R., Reid, K., Arnould, J.P.Y., Croxall, J.P.