Plastic Policy

Science into Policy on Polar Plastics

Start date
9 July, 2019
End date
31 December, 2022

BAS researchers play leading roles within the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) as chair and members of the Plastic Action Group, a group which aims to assess the current state of the problem, share knowledge and expertise and propose solutions to the problems of plastic pollution in Polar ecosystems.

Research by BAS scientists on Bird Island has influenced fisheries policy in the region to reduce seabird and marine mammal entanglements and deaths. These have reduced significantly since the introduction of legislation in the late 1980s prohibiting the disposal of plastics overboard and with improvements to the safe disposal of packaging bands. BAS has also studied the marine debris on the beaches near its stations for over 30 years and reports to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources on an annual basis.

Based on BAS led research, a UK policy paper on reducing plastic pollution in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean was presented to the The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM)  2019. The resulting Resolution contained several recommendations to minimise plastic pollution in Antarctica and was endorsed by the ACTM. Several CEP members have since initiated practical steps to minimise microplastic pollution from their ships and research stations.

The treaty Consultative Parties recommend that their Governments (Resolution 5, 2019):

  1. encourage all persons under their jurisdiction organising or conducting tourist or other non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty area and National Antarctic Programmes to eliminate personal care products containing micro-plastic beads in the Antarctic Treaty area;
  2. identify and exchange information with other Parties on methods that should be implemented to reduce micro-plastic release from wastewater systems;
  3. support greater monitoring of plastic pollution in Antarctica using developing standards and comparative methodologies, particularly near areas of human activity;
  4. invite SCAR to report as new information emerges that quantifies plastic pollution and details the risks to Antarctic species and communities; and
  5. consider the issue of micro-plastic release in connection with any possible future revisions of Annexes III and IV to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty

Read the submitted documents here:

BAS scientific papers that contributed to the policy paper:

Convey, P., Barnes, D.K.A., and Morton, A. (2002). Debris accumulation on oceanic island shores of the Scotia Arc, Antarctica. Polar Biology 25: 612-617.

do Sul, J.A.I., Barnes, D.K.A., Costa, M.F., Convey, P., Costa, E.S., and Campos, L.S. (2011). Plastics in the Antarctic environment: are we looking only at the tip of the iceberg? Oecologia Australis 15:150-170.

Reed, S., Clark, M., Thompson, R., and Hughes, K.A. (2018). Microplastics in marine sediments near Rothera Research Station, Antarctica. Marine Pollution Bulletin 133: 460-463.

Waller, C.L., Griffiths, H.J., Waluda, C.M., Thorpe, S.E., Loaiza, I., Moreno, B., Pacherres, C.O., and Hughes, K.A. (2017). Microplastics in the Antarctic marine system: an emerging area of research. Science of the Total Environment 598: 220-227.

Walker, T.R., Reid, K., Arnould, J.P.Y., and Croxall, J.P. (1997). Marine debris surveys at Bird Island, South Georgia 1990–1995. Marine Pollution Bulletin 34: 61-65.

Waluda, C.M., and Staniland, I.J. (2013). Entanglement of Antarctic fur seals at Bird Island, South Georgia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 74: 261-274.