Mapping the exposure of Arctic marine fauna to microplastics
Plastic production is still increasing annually. This causes growing concern for the vast amounts of inadequately disposed debris entering the oceans globally. Plastic debris that enters the oceans is broken down by UV radiation and wave action over time. These smaller fragments are increasingly bio-available to marine species. Due to the remote and seemingly pristine nature of the Arctic, low levels of plastic pollution were expected. However, the few studies measuring plastics in the Arctic have recorded the presence of microplastics throughout the water column, in sediments, soil, snow and ingested by sea-bird and a few fish species. Studies at a greater spatial scale however are largely missing, as well as the knowledge of the exact origins and transportation pathways. By collecting microplastic samples along the Norwegian Coast, around Svalbard, Jan Mayen and Greenland, this study aims to better understand the localisation, concentration, and composition of microplastics in Arctic waters, as well as the role the North Atlantic and Norwegian Coastal Currents in particular may play in transporting plastics into the Arctic, which is presumed to be a dead-end for the debris. As an area of rapid environmental change due to warming, species' range shifts, altering seasons, increasing extreme weather patterns and the loss of sea ice, Arctic species are particularly vulnerable. Further stressors acting on this ecosystem may have a disproportionate impact. To that effect, the aim of this project is to both quantify concentrations of marine debris and assess which species are most likely to encounter the recorded debris. Filtering environmental DNA simultaneously to the microplastics trawls will show which species co-occur with the microplastics and gut analysis will show if the debris is indeed being taken-up into the food web. Combining these methods will allow the mapping of species presence and areas of high concentration which can highlight areas at higher risk and inform mitigation efforts. Samples for the project will be collected on the TOPtoTOP Global Climate Expedition’s sailing vessel together with the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences and Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE).
|Svalbard, Jan Mayen, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, Norwegian Sea
|15th February 2021 – 31st January 2022
|SPI Exploratory Grants