Distressing photos snapped by Sail Against Plastic show a mother polar bear and her two cubs chewing on plastic waste that washed ashore in Svalbard, one of Europe's northernmost islands.
Svalbard is an island archipelago found halfway between the northern tip of Norway and the North Pole. The human population of about 2,500 rubs shoulders – rather uneasily to say the least – with about 3,000 polar bears.
It's an understatement to say the two species don't always get along: a 17-year-old British student was fatally mauled by a polar bear on the main island of Spitsbergen in 2011. Now it seems humans are negatively interacting with polar bears in other ways as well.
These images of a mother polar bear and her two cubs were taken by Kevin Morgans of Sail Against Plastic, “a collaborative sailing expedition investigating and unveiling invisible pollution in the Arctic ocean”.
The group of 15 Cornish scientists, artists, filmmakers and campaigners had recently returned from the isolated islands located far above the Arctic Circle, just 600 miles from the North Pole.
Isolated or not, ocean currents “visit” Svalbard day in and day out, and they don't always come alone. “What we found on the beaches was sadly not so very different from what we find back home,” according to SAP team member Claire Wallerstein.
“There was plenty of fishing waste, but the saddest thing was just how much of the waste blighting the Arctic is the same old disposable detritus of our daily lives – plastic bottles, cotton bud sticks, cigarette ends, wet wipes, polystyrene and food packaging.”
The crumpled sheet of black plastic being pawed and chomped-on by the curious polar bears could not be identified, though the SAP team noted discarded fishing nets and related detritus littering the icy, rocky beach.
“We were very lucky to be invited to take part in this unique expedition, and had an amazing time seeing Arctic wildlife, stunning glaciers and experiencing 24-hour sunlight,” added Wallerstein. “However, it was also a very sobering experience to see just how much plastic is making its way to this incredibly remote and apparently pristine environment.” Apparently not... just ask a polar bear parent. (via The Independent)