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Human Impacts on Antarctica and Threats to the Environment - Pollution
Everyone has heard of the ozone layer and the ozone hole that allows too much harmful ultra violet light to get through the earth's atmosphere over the south pole during the Austral spring. This is caused by the pumping into the atmosphere of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the industrialized world over a long time period.
The ozone hole is the best known example of pollutants that are produced in one place, but have their effects in another. As Antarctica is one of the cleanest, least polluted places on earth it is an ideal location for measuring the spread of global pollutants. Minute traces of man-made chemicals used in other parts of the world can be detected in the snow that falls over the region. They become concentrated in the bodies of local wildlife such as seals and penguins.
More mundane, but equally great threats to Antarctica are the effects of casual pollution that goes along with every day life and activities. In a cold and slowly changing environment the effects of simple events can be there for years. Organic material for instance can take decades to decay where it would be gone in months even in the temperate parts of the world. The outline of footprints on a moss-bank can still be seen years later for instance.
Oil spills are an increasing form of pollution in Antarctica as a result of increasing shipping activity in the region. While ships often have facilities to contain waste oil and separate oil from water which is then taken out of Antarctica for disposal, an ever greater presence is bound to lead to more accidents which do happen. In recent years there have been a number of groundings of tourist ships in shallow, poorly chartered waters and also accidents involving fishing boats in pursuit of the Patagonian toothfish.
An increasing problem in Antarctic waters (and in the rest of the world too) is flotsam and debris lost overboard from ships, particularly fishing ships. Bits of fishing net, fishing line, boxes, strapping bands etc. might sound harmless if unsightly, but they can have a deadly effect on wildlife.
Birds and seals get tangled up up lines and net. Fur seals can suffer the most as the youngsters in particular are very playful and what starts off as a game with a plastic band can soon turn nasty as it gets stuck over the seals head. Unable to remove the band it begins to cut into the flesh causing physical injury, infection and ultimately a long and slow death.
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