The geology of Brazil’s volcanic Trindade Island has fascinated scientists for years, but the discovery of rocks made of plastic debris in this remote turtle sanctuary is raising alarm.
Melted plastic has become entwined with rocks on the island, located 1,140 kilometers from the southeastern state of Espirito Santo, in what scientists say is evidence of humans’ growing influence over the Earth’s geological cycles.
“This is new and scary at the same time, because pollution has reached geology,” said Fernanda Avelar Santos, a geologist at the Federal University of Parana.
Santos and her team ran chemical tests to find out what kind of plastic is in the rocks, which are called “plastiglomerates” because they are made of a mixture of sedimentary granules and other debris held together by plastic.
“We identified (the pollution) mainly from fishing nets, which is very common litter on the beaches of Trinidade Island,” Santos said. “The nets are pulled by the ocean currents and collect on the beach. As the temperature rises, this plastic melts and becomes embedded in the natural material of the beach.”
Trindade Island is one of the world’s most important conservation sites for green turtles, or Chelonia mydas, with thousands arriving each year to lay their eggs. The only human inhabitants of Trindade are members of the Brazilian Navy, who have a base on the island and protect the nesting turtles.
“The place where we found these samples (of plastic) is a permanent conservation area in Brazil, near the place where green turtles lay their eggs,” Santos said.
The discovery raises questions about the legacy of humans on Earth, says Santos.
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“We talk so much about the Anthropocene, and this is it,” Santos said, referring to a proposed geological epoch defined by the impact of humans on the planet’s geology and ecosystems.
“The pollution, the trash in the ocean, and the plastic improperly dumped in the oceans are becoming geological material … preserved in the Earth’s geological record.”
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