Low densities of drifting litter in the African sector of the Southern Ocean

Peter G Ryan, Seth Musker, Ariella Rink
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2014 December 15, 89 (1-2): 16-9
Only 52 litter items (>1cm diameter) were observed in 10,467 km of at-sea transects in the African sector of the Southern Ocean. Litter density north of the Subtropical Front (0.58 items km(-2)) was less than in the adjacent South Atlantic Ocean (1-6 items km(-2)), but has increased compared to the mid-1980s. Litter density south of the Subtropical Front was an order of magnitude less than in temperate waters (0.032 items km(-2)). There was no difference in litter density between sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters either side of the Antarctic Polar Front. Most litter was made of plastic (96%). Fishery-related debris comprised a greater proportion of litter south of the Subtropical Front (33%) than in temperate waters (13%), where packaging dominated litter items (68%). The results confirm that the Southern Ocean is the least polluted ocean in terms of drifting debris and suggest that most debris comes from local sources.

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