Arctic schooner in Malta to study plastic pollution

A French Arctic schooner docked in Malta as part of an expedition to study the concentration of plastic in the Mediterranean Sea.

Gaby Gorsky speaks of plastic pollution in Mediterranean. Photo by Ray Attard
Gaby Gorsky speaks of plastic pollution in Mediterranean. Photo by Ray Attard
Arctic Schooner in Malta to study plastic pollu • Video by Ray Attard

An Arctic schooner docked in Valletta this weekend as part of its scientific expedition to study plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea.

“It is too early to tell how serious the plastic pollution in Malta’s waters is,” Gabriel Gorsky, scientific director of this expedition, told MaltaToday while on board the Tara. “However, from the samples we have treated so far, the entire Mediterranean is polluted with plastic.

“When the sea is beautifully blue, that does not mean that it is not polluted by plastic but that the plastic there is transparent and small.”

In fact, this scientific expedition is searching the Mediterranean for plastic fragments that are smaller than five centimetres.

“We want to create maps of the concentration of these plastic fragments in the Mediterranean and find out which areas are their hotspots,” Gorksy said. “We found 400,000 small plastic fragments per square kilometre in the western part of the Mediterranean.”

Even if the Maltese waters aren’t a hotspot for the concentration of plastic, that could change in the future.

“Wind can easily transport plastic fragments from one side of the Meidterranean to the other,” Gorsky said.

How do these scientists go about collecting and analysing these plastic fragments?

“We have specialised gear to fish the plastic fragments out of the sea,” Gorsky said. “We then store them in liquid nitrogen or other chemical solutions. We study the composition of the plastic fragments and the chemicals that stick to them. Some of these chemicals can be very toxic to humans and sea-dwelling organisms.”

“We also study the fish that eat the plastic and how their bodies respond to it, as well as the small microbes that actually live on these fragments.”

This study is organised by the French environmental organisation Tara Expeditions, renowned for its polar expeditions. The schooner started off in France and stopped off in Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon before docking in Malta. From here, it will travel to other countries including Tunisia, Algeria, Spain, and Portugal.

This is not the first time that the Tara schooner has docked in Malta. It was last here in 2009 as part of a three-year mission to study the impact of plankton on the world’s climate.

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