Marine plastics threaten giant Atlantic Marine Protected Areas.
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There has been a recent shift in global perception of plastics in the environment, resulting in a call for greater action. Science and the popular media have highlighted plastic as an increasing stressor [1,2]. Efforts have been made to confer protected status to some remote locations, forming some of the world's largest Marine Protected Areas, including several UK overseas territories. We assessed plastic at these remote Atlantic Marine Protected Areas, surveying the shore, sea surface, water column and seabed, and found drastic changes from 2013-2018. Working from the RRS James Clark Ross at Ascension, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Gough and the Falkland Islands (Figure 1A), we showed that marine debris on beaches has increased more than 10 fold in the past decade. Sea surface plastics have also increased, with in-water plastics occurring at densities of 0.1 items m-3; plastics on seabeds were observed at ≤ 0.01 items m-2. For the first time, beach densities of plastics at remote South Atlantic sites approached those at industrialised North Atlantic sites. This increase even occurs hundreds of meters down on seamounts. We also investigated plastic incidence in 2,243 animals (comprising 26 species) across remote South Atlantic oceanic food webs, ranging from plankton to seabirds. We found that plastics had been ingested by primary consumers (zooplankton) to top predators (seabirds) at high rates. These findings suggest that MPA status will not mitigate the threat of plastic proliferation to this rich, unique and threatened biodiversity.
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