Microplastics are a threat to several ecosystems around the world. Microplastics end up in seas and oceans mainly through the accumulation of plastic waste, but also through the discharge of plastic-based products such as cosmetics, detergents and consumables.
These particles can cause harm to fish, seabirds, sea turtles and other aquatic organisms when ingested or absorbed through the gills. Rivers and lakes can also be seriously threatened by microplastics, as they can accumulate in surface waters and river ecosystems.
Fish and other aquatic organisms living in these habitats may be exposed to microplastics, with possible negative consequences on their health and populations. Microplastics also accumulate in coastal areas, where they can have harmful effects on coastal marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, seaweed beds and coral reefs.
Here too, organisms such as fish, turtles, seals and seabirds can ingest or be exposed to microplastics. It is possible that microplastics also seriously threaten Antarctica and the Arctic. Recent studies have detected the presence of microplastics in these remote regions, even in areas where local pollution is limited.
Microplastics can reach the poles via ocean currents, transported from other regions of the world.
Polar organisms, such as fish, marine mammals and microscopic creatures that form the base of the food chain, may therefore be exposed to the risks of microplastics.
In general, freshwater and saltwater ecosystems around the world are threatened by microplastics. Since these particles tend to accumulate in sediment and aquatic organisms at various trophic levels, they easily spread through food chains, exposing a wide range of organisms to plastic pollution.
Ecosystems threatened by microplastics
Both the Arctic and the Antarctic are threatened by microplastic pollution. Microplastics are very small plastic particles that come from various sources, such as waste that breaks down in the ocean, personal care products containing plastic microbeads, and street cleaning.
Due to global ocean currents, microplastics spread throughout the world and even reach the polar regions. Studies have shown that they are present both in sea ice and in polar organisms such as fish, marine mammals and birds.
The microplastic situation in the Arctic and Antarctic could worsen due to climate change. As sea ice increasingly melts, it is predicted that polar ocean currents could become more intense, leading to increased circulation of microplastics and pollutants.
Furthermore, human activities in the Arctic, such as tourism, fishing and natural resource extraction, may increase in the future, leading to a greater introduction of microplastics into the region.
Tackling microplastic pollution will require global commitment to reduce the use of single-use plastics, improve waste management and promote research and development of sustainable alternatives.
Furthermore, the implementation of conservation policies and the creation of marine protected areas could help preserve the Arctic and Antarctic from the threats of microplastics.