Microplastic pollution in a rapidly changing world: Implications for remote and vulnerable marine ecosystems

Ecosystems in remote regions tend to be highly specific, having historically evolved over long timescales in relatively constant environmental conditions, with little human influence. Such regions are amongst those most physically altering and biologically threatened by global climate change. In addition, they are increasingly receiving anthropogenic pollution. Microplastic pollution has now been found in these most remote places on earth, far from most human activities. Microplastics can induce complex and wide-ranging physical and chemical effects but little to date is known of their long-term biological impacts. In combination with climate-induced stress, microplastics may lead to enhanced multi-stress impacts, potentially affecting the health and resilience of species and ecosystems. While species in historically populated areas have had some opportunity to adapt to mounting human influence over centuries and millennia, the relatively rapid intensification of widespread anthropogenic activities in recent decades has provided species in previously ‘untouched’ regions little such opportunities. The characteristics of remote ecosystems and the species therein suggest that they could be more sensitive to the combined effects of microplastic pollution, global physical change and other stressors than elsewhere. Here we discuss how species and ecosystems within two remote yet contrasting regions, coastal Antarctica and the deep sea, might be especially vulnerable to harm from microplastic pollution in the context of a rapidly changing environment.


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Authors: Horton, Alice A. ORCIDORCID record for Alice A. Horton, Barnes, David K.A. ORCIDORCID record for David K.A. Barnes

On this site: David Barnes
10 October, 2020
Science of The Total Environment / 738
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