Microplastics make it into the diet of Antarctic penguins

An international team with the participation of researchers from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC) has analyzed the feces of three species of Antarctic penguins –the Adelia (Pygoscelis adeliae), the chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarcticus) and the papua (Pygoscelis papua– and has found large amounts of microplastics, What polyester Y polyethylene, among other particles of non-natural origin.

The fact that penguins are predators make them good indicators of the health of the ecosystems in which they live

Andrés Barbosa, from the MNCN

The objective of the study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, was to analyze the presence of microplastics in the antarctic peninsula and in the scotia sea, southeast of Argentina, given the great ecological importance of these habitats.

“Penguins are used for many studies because their biology and ecology are well known and the fact that they are predators makes them good indicators of the health of the ecosystems in which they live,” he explains. Andres Barbosa, scientist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC) and author of the work.

The study, which has included researchers from Portugal, the United Kingdom and Spain, emphasizes the need to know the effects of these particles in Antarctic fauna and to establish more effective measures to control the contamination by plastics and other particles of human origin on the frozen continent.

The long life of plastics

Microplastics are particles of less than 5 mm that are increasingly widespread in marine ecosystems, something worrisome given their persistence in the environment, where they can last for more than 50 years, and their eventual accumulation in marine ecosystems. Trophic chains. “These pollutants reach seas and oceans mainly through the trash and waste from anthropic activities “, he explains Barbosa.

Microplastics can last in the environment for more than 50 years, accumulating in food chains

“Given the low human presence in the Antarctic Ocean and Antarctica, low contamination by microplastics would be expected in these areas. However, research stations, fishing and tourist boats and ocean currents cause these particles to reach these habitats, which can cause a high concentration at the local level ”, he says. Jose Xavier, researcher at the University of Coimbra (Portugal).

“The results show that the diet of the three species is composed of different proportions of antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), 85% in the case of the Adélie penguin; 66% in the chinstrap and, finally, 54% in the Papua. Microplastics were found in 15%, 28% and 29% of the samples, respectively, in the three species studied ”, he points out. Joana Fragão, from the University of Coimbra.

“The frequency of appearance of these substances it was similar in all colonies, which leads us to believe that there is no specific point of origin of contamination within the Scotia Sea. It is necessary to continue studying in this line to better understand the dynamics of these substances and their effects on these ecosystems to guide new management policies in the Antarctic continent ”, he concludes Filipa Bessa, another of the study’s authors.


Joana Fragão, et al. “Microplastics and other anthropogenic particles in Antarctica: Using penguins as biological samplers”. Science of The Total Environment, 788, 147698. DOI: 10.1016 / j.scitotenv.2021.147698

Rights: Creative Commons.

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