A Plastic Ocean: When Plastic Waste is Threatening Arctic Wildlife

ice penguins arctic

A team of researchers has warned that plastic waste is dangerously building up in the allegedly untouched region of the Norwegian Arctic, close to Svalbard. An ever-increasing amount of micro plastic fragments is ending up in the sea and Norwegian fishermen worry that their products may no longer be safe from contamination.

Geir Wing Gabrielsen, one of the paper’s author, said: “We are finding more and more plastic waste in Svalbard, where I work. At the end of the 1970s we found very few plastics in the fish stomachs. In 2013 when we last investigated, some had more than 200 pieces of plastic in their stomachs. Other creatures are getting entangled in nets washed up on beaches – like reindeer. Some die because they can’t release their antlers – we find them every year.”


Having focused their investigation on zooplankton, invertebrates, fish, seabirds and mammals, scientists revealed that up to 234 particles of plastic were found in one litre of melted Arctic sea ice, a figure that is far higher than in the ocean. The study explains that during the formation of sea ice, fragments of plastic that floats at the surface get stuck inside the ice as it freezes. Moreover, 80% of plastic litter is due to fishing activities happening in the area, while southern Norway’s biggest source of pollution is domestic.

Norway’s environment minister says his fellow politicians have not fully realised how much plastic pollution can harm the land’s environment, with boat owners recognising that saving Arctic wildlife will take centuries.


However, the study “Plastic in the European Arctic” is not the only one, in fact plastic and micro-plastics described as a “plastic smog” have now been discovered in every ocean in the world, making the oceans a “plastic soup”. What is even worse is that the figures will potentially increase tenfold in the next decade unless we find a way to improve how garbage is collected, managed and how to stop producing plastic.

A very interesting documentary which explores the fragile state of our oceans is “A Plastic Ocean”. While the film’s chief concern is with the impact our overdependence on plastic is causing for the oceans, it naturally deals with the other repercussions that go hand-in-hand with it, notably the impact on developing countries’ ability to deal with such an enormous  amount of durable waste. The film also documents the trickle-down effects plastic has on human health more globally. Indeed, by compromising the well-being of our oceans we have effectively posed a threat to every level of our food-chains, as all life begins in the sea.


Humankind built an entire system based around plastic. That is to say, plastic is used everywhere. Therefore the key will be to find the best innovations and solutions in order to keep this system durable. It’s important to identify alternative products, which can be utilized in place of disposable single-use plastic. And just when it seems like we’ve created a problem that we can’t surmount, the film changes angle and begins to look at substantial solutions, many of which have already seen tremendous successes in alleviating plastic pollution.


We can all be part of the solution by making smarter daily choices and try to think reusable rather than disposable. The ocean is in peril due to many factors, but the growing amount of plastic pollution currently being released into the sea must stop. The simplest actions can make a world of difference: bring your own bag to the market, take a reusable bottle with you when you’re on the go, choose real utensils over plastic ones, and say no to plastic pollution. With an estimated 8 million tons of plastic being dumped in our oceans each year, the time to act and be a part of the wave of change is now!