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Even In The Arctic, Plastic Debris Pollution Has Now Arrived

A new study finds plastic debris on the floor of the once pristine Arctic Ocean, the latest sign of environmental damage of global waste.

New plastic bags are found everyday on the floor of the Arctic Ocean
New plastic bags are found everyday on the floor of the Arctic Ocean
Thomas Wagner-Nagy

The Arctic Ocean was for a long time considered as virtually untouched by pollution. But in the past decade, the amount of plastic garbage on the ocean floor has doubled and is now “higher than the amount recorded from a deep-sea canyon not far from the industrialized Portuguese capital Lisbon,” according to a new study.

Plastic garbage doesn’t just float around in the high seas: these remnants of modern civilization also sink to the bottom of the world’s oceans.

Research conducted by the Alfred Wegener Institut für Polar und Meeresforschung (Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research/AWI) shows that it has not only found its way to one of the most remote corners of the planet, but that the amount of plastic debris on the floor of the Arctic Ocean has doubled in the last 10 years.

For her study, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, marine biologist Melanie Bergmann compared 2,100 photographs of the deep seafloor taken at the institute’s deep-sea Hausgarten observatory. This observatory is located in the eastern Fram Strait, the sea route between Greenland and Norway’s Spitsbergen Island. The set-up at the station consists of a remote-controlled camera system at a depth of 2,500 meters – about 1.5 meters above the ocean floor – that takes pictures of the seafloor every 30 seconds.

These photographs are generally used to record changes in biodiversity, but as she reviewed the images, Bergmann was struck by the fact that in 2011 a great deal more garbage was visible than had been on photographs from earlier expeditions. "Waste can be seen in around 1% of the images from 2002, primarily plastic," she reports. In 2011, about 2% of the pictures show garbage, leading Bergmann to conclude that the amount of garbage on the ocean has doubled in the past ten years.

The pictures do not reveal where the garbage in the Arctic Ocean comes from. Bergmann suspects that the increased amounts are due to the shrinking and thinning of the Arctic ice, as well as the intensification of ship traffic in the area. Research on the trash picked up on Spitsbergen beaches shows that it comes from high seas fishing boats.

On the ocean floor, “67% of the plastic litter was entangled or colonized by invertebrates such as sponges (41%) or sea anemones (15%).” As plastic bags can affect gas exchange processes, Bergmann believes that it is possible that long-term the trash could change the composition of species and biodiversity on the ocean floor.

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Iran's War On Abortion Rights, A Toxic Mix Of Theocracy And Demographic Panic

Ending a pregnancy has become a major complication, and a crime, for Iranian women who cannot or will not have children in a country wracked by socio-economic woes and a leadership.

photo of a young child surrounded by women in chadors

Iran's government wants to boost the birth rate at all costs

Office of Supreme Leader/ZUMA
Firoozeh Nordstrom

Keen to boost the population, Iran's Islamic regime has reversed its half-hearted family planning policies of earlier years and is curbing birth control with measures that include banning abortion.

Its (2021) Law to Support the Family and Rejuvenate the Population (Qanun-e hemayat az khanevadeh va javani-e jam'iyat) threatens to fine the women who want to abort, and fine, imprison, and dismiss the performing physician, if the pregnancy is not deemed to be life-threatening. The law also bans contraceptives.

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The measures are in line with the dictates of Iran's Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. He was already denouncing birth control policies by 2018-19, though conservative elements among Iran's rulers have always dismissed birth control as a piece of Western corruption.

Today, measures to boost families include land and credit incentives for young couples, but it is difficult to say how far they will counter a marked reluctance among Iranians to marry and procreate. Kayhan-London had an online conversation with individuals affected by the new rules in Iran.

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