The Arctic is undergoing dramatic changes, including unprecedented decline in sea ice and rising temperatures. These changes are likely to have significant impacts on all Arctic ecosystems, but beaches are often the places we see these changes first. In addition to these pressures, emerging threats such as plastic and other pollutants are impacting marine life all around the world from the poles to the equator.
Our team includes researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (Huw & Steve) and the University of Hull (Cath) (you can meet the team here). Our INTERACT funded project is called “Biodiversity and Plastics in Arctic Intertidal and Nearshore Terrestrial Systems” or “B-PAINTS”. We are about to head off to Nunavut (ᓄᓇᕗᑦ) in Arctic Canada to spend two weeks working at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay/Iqaluktuuttiaq/ᐃᖃᓗᒃᑑᑦᑎᐊᖅ. Situated 180 miles (220 km) north of the Arctic circle, Cambridge Bay has a polar climate and sea ice in the bay for much of the year. If you want to follow us when we are out there you can read our future INTERACT blogs here, or live updates from the field on Twitter using #BPAINTS and @griffiths_huw, @cathwaller and @roberts_sjr.
Being based in the UK, we face a two-day, 9,300 km, journey at the start of August to reach CHARS. If all goes to plan, once we are there we will be surveying the intertidal zone (the beaches) and nearby areas for biodiversity (the plants and animals that mke the beach their home). We will also assess human impacts, including micro (small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long) and macro (larger pieces) plastics.
To do this, we use a combination of visual surveys, images from a drone, and collections of sand and filter feeding animals (clams, crustaceans etc) to check for the presence of plastic particles. This work will add to our information that we have already collected in Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic, Greenland and Iceland, helping us to understand how biodiversity and pollution are changing in the polar regions.