Chinese researchers on an Antarctic expedition have found microplastics near the South Pole, lending scientific weight to rising calls across the planet to address ocean pollution.
The Chinese expedition searched for and found the tiny plastic particles in the Antarctic for the first time in Chinese research history, according to a notice released by the State Oceanic Administration on Thursday.
The first to find microplastics in the Antarctic were two Japanese university research teams in 2016, the Science and Technology Daily reported on Wednesday.
The Japanese teams found 140,000 to 290,000 particles per square kilometer of sea between Australia and the Antarctic continent, according to the official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
China's ocean authorities in 2016 started monitoring for microplastics in China's coastal waters, the Beijing-based paper reported. Similar work was conducted near the North Pole in 2017.
Microplastics are 5 millimeter or smaller plastic particles that can linger in the sea 100 years or longer.
"The microplastics in the Antarctic Ocean derive from human discharge as all the oceans on the planet are interconnected," Dong Yue, a research fellow at the Polar Research Institute of the Ocean University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The microplastic problem demands urgent attention as plastic passes through the food chain into the human body, Dong said. He urged stronger supervision of seafood and reduced usage of non-degradable plastics.
The effects of plastic particles on the human body are still uncertain from a scientific perspective, "just like PM2.5," he said, referring to air particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller.