Brazilian researchers discover ‘terrifying’ plastic rocks on remote island

(Reuters) 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 haven is prompting alarm.

Molten plastic is embedded in rocks on the island, located 1,140 km (708 miles) from the southeastern state of Espirito Santo, which researchers say is evidence of increasing human influence on Earth’s geological cycles.

“This is new and terrifying at the same time, because pollution has reached geography,” said Fernanda Avelar Santos, a geologist at the Federal University of Paraná.

Santos and his team conducted chemical tests to determine what types of plastics were in the rocks, known as “plastiglomerates,” because they are made up of a mixture of sediment particles and other debris held together by plastic.

“We identified (the pollution) mainly comes from fishing nets, which is the most common litter on the beaches of the island of Trinidad,” Santos said. “(The nets) get pulled by ocean currents and pile up on the beach. As temperatures rise, this plastic melts and becomes embedded with the beach’s natural material.”

Melted plastic is entwined with rocks on the island.

Trindade Island is one of the world’s most important conservation areas for green turtles, or Celonia mydas, where thousands come every year to lay their eggs. Trindade’s only residents are members of the Brazilian Navy, which maintains a base on the island and protects nesting turtles.

“The place where these samples (of plastic) were found is a permanently protected area in Brazil, close to where green turtles lay their eggs,” Santos said.

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The discovery raises questions about the legacy of humans on Earth, says Santos.

“We talk a lot about the Anthropocene, and this is it,” Santos said, referring to a proposed geological era defined by humans’ impact on the planet’s geography and ecosystems.

“Pollution, marine debris and improperly dumped plastics in the ocean are becoming geological material … preserved in the Earth’s geological record.”

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