Our study, recently published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, provides new information on plastic pollution in the western North Atlantic
The Labrador Sea – a chilly body of water between Canada and Greenland in the western North Atlantic - provides important habitat for marine animals and supports important commercial fisheries. Although plastic is now one among one of the most pervasive pollutants on the planet, little is known about plastic pollution in this region.
Due to a small human footprint in the surrounding coastal areas, we hypothesized that the Labrador Sea would have low levels of plastic pollution. Using the northern fulmar, an internationally recognized biological monitor for trends in plastic pollution, we set out to evaluate how plastic pollution here compares to other regions. We found that 79% of fulmars collected from Canadian waters of the Labrador Sea had ingested plastic, but that the amount ingested is lower than many other regions in the Atlantic and Pacific. This suggests that levels of plastic pollution in the Labrador Sea may also be lower. However, despite the low human footprint, the Labrador Sea does not meet the EcoQO marine litter target for 'acceptable ecological quality', and ocean circulation models predict that the Arctic will become another plastic pollution accumulation zone in the future.
I believe it is time for a strategic approach. A coordinated effort to document plastic pollution in northern waters could help to track trends and detect changes. This is critical as the rapid loss of sea ice due to climate change and an increase in commercial activities make the area vulnerable to increasing plastic pollution. Likewise, monitoring trends in plastic pollution could help to detect reductions as waste-management strategies come online - something we hope to see more of.
Citation: Avery-Gomm, S., Provencher, J. F., Liboiron, M., Poon, F. E., & Smith, P. A. (2017). Plastic pollution in the Labrador Sea: An assessment using the seabird northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis as a biological monitoring species. Marine Pollution Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.10.001