Researchers to identify biodiversity and plastics in Southern Ocean

Researchers to identify biodiversity and plastics in Southern Ocean
The prime objective is to study marine biodiversity in this region, which is bearing the full consequences of global warming.© Belga

On Wednesday, several Belgian and European researchers will go to identify marine biodiversity and the presence of plastics in the Southern Ocean, which borders the Antarctic. The researcher at the Marine Biology Laboratory at the ULB (the French-speaking Free University of Brussels), Bruno Danis, said, “The observation of plastic pollution is very recent, and we are lamentably lacking in reliable data.” Danis himself will lead the expedition.

The researchers will leave from Ushuaïa, in Argentina, aboard a light sea craft, which should enable them to limit the environmental impact of their mission. They will join the Gerlache Strait, within the Antarctic Peninsula, where they will drop anchor for a month.

The prime objective is to study marine biodiversity, which is highly specific yet little explored, of this region which is bearing the full consequences of global warming, such as the increase in water temperature and rapid glacial melt.

Bruno Danis explains that the aim is to “produce a detailed biodiversity work, going down to depths of around hundred metres.” Researchers will next try to predict environmental changes, which will affect the processes within these ecosystems.

A further point for the researchers to consider: the presence of plastic particles in the Southern Ocean. Plastic was, until fairly recently, considered as relatively well preserved by pollution.

Bruno Danis is somewhat critical of the situation, “Given the quantity of plastic produced worldwide (around 380 million tonnes per year) and the continued existence of some of plastic’s components in the marine environment, there is no reason to hope that any region should be spared.”

However, the response of given ecosystems to this is highly complex. The researcher says that plastic ingested by fauna can have an insidious toxicity, operating like a “magnet” for an entire series of contaminants, such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) which act as endocrine disruptors. He states that “very little has been written of” this phenomenon.

With the southern hemisphere’s summer coming to an end, the scientists should enjoy a relatively mild climate. Bruno Danis adds, “There will be 12 of us living in a confined space for a month with important work to do. However we will be in a fantastic location, which should no doubt compensate for all of the disadvantages.” The researchers will return home at the beginning of April.

The Brussels Times

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