South Atlantic islands suffer a plague of plastic

South Atlantic islands suffer a plague of plastic

Plastic waste on the beaches of British islands in the South Atlantic has increased more than a hundredfold in a decade.

The shorelines of Ascension, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and the Falkland Islands are contaminated with up to 301 pieces of plastic litter per metre, a study has found.

A third of the items were plastic fragments but scientists also collected plastic bottles, wrapping and litter from fishing boats. They concluded that most of the plastic had been carried long distances before washing up.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, University of Plymouth and other research institutes examined 284 seabird corpses, including albatrosses, finding that 71 per cent had ingested plastic.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, found plastic in fish, with one mackerel’s stomach half full of polystyrene. It suggested that the government’s plan to designate some overseas territories as marine parks would not stop plastic waste.

The researchers carried out four trips aboard the research ship RRS James Clark Ross between 2013 and this year. Comparing their results with those from past surveys, they found that waste on an East Falkland beach had risen from 2.1 pieces a metre in 2009 to 301 this year.

On Ascension Island the increase was from 3.4 pieces per metre in 2009 to 30 in 2015. Up to 33 large pieces of plastic were found on the sea surface per square kilometre, an increase of 76 per cent in five years. The scientists also found that plastic was acting as rafts for invasive species. A fishing buoy was found to be carrying seven small marine creatures.

David Barnes, the lead author of the study, said: “Three decades ago these islands . . . were near-pristine. Plastic waste has increased a hundredfold in that time.”