Peter Ryan lectures on birds and the Antarctic at Winter School
THREE University of Cape Town scientists who jumped at the chance to circumnavigate Antarctica recently returned from their three-month voyage. Professor Peter Ryan from the Fitzpatrick Institute of Ornithology, along with Dr Sarah Fawcett and postgraduate student Heather Forrer from the Department of Oceanography, seized an opportunity to join one of the biggest and most ambitious scientific expeditions in history.
The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) attracted dozens of scientists from around the world and took them round the Antarctica on the Russian research vessel Akademik Tryoshnikov. The goal was to see first-hand, through a range of scientific disciplines, what effect climate change was having on the Southern Ocean and how this affected humans.
Ryan, an ornithologist, spotted an abundance of birds and whales, but also a disturbing density of synthetic microfibres in the waters around Antarctica. “The sea is the ultimate sink for anything that goes into the environment,” he said.
This heightened fears that marine creatures would ingest the synthetic fibres, added Fawcett.
“The fibres can also be a vector for toxic compounds,” Ryan said, adding the fibres effect on the Southern Ocean still needed to be investigated.
“It was a shocking finding,” said Forrer.
ACE was the brainchild of Frederik Paulsen, a reclusive pharmaceutical billionaire and philanthropist. In late 2015, scientists around the world were invited to propose research projects for a first-of-its-kind circumnavigation of Antarctica, as the first project of the newly-created Swiss Polar Institute.
Pretoria News, 13 Apr 2017