I’ve seen, heard and thought a lot about plastic in the oceans recently.
The ABC programme Catalyst showed a 12-minute documentary last week which I was fortunate to catch (if you’re in the right internet zone you can view it here). In it, the researchers showed how large amounts of small pieces of plastic can be found in almost any animal in the ocean, even down to zooplankton. They showed how CSIRO has been working around the Australian coast, documenting how much plastic is on our beaches and figuring out which currents brought it there in the largest marine debris study ever undertaken. We were shown how seabird populations on Lord Howe Island especially have been declining rapidly, due to plastic ingestion by chicks (up to 150 pieces of plastic can be found in the birds’ stomachs, most from local sources).
It’s estimated that 3.5 million pieces of new plastic enter the world’s oceans daily. Over 270 species worldwide are known to be affected by marine debris, including nearly half of all seabird species. But did you know how much it affects you?
Here is what Dr. Jennifer Lavers had to say in the programme:
The plastic itself inherently contains a wide array of chemicals that are used during the manufacturing and processes. When the plastic is put out into the marine environment and it floats around in the ocean for let’s say ten or forty years it really does last forever, it basically acts like a little magnet or a sponge and it takes all the contaminants that are out there in the ocean environment that are really diluted in the ocean water and it concentrates it up, onto the surface.
Plastic itself has up to a thousand times a higher concentration of contaminants on its surface than the surrounding seawater from which it came. And when the animal, whether it’s a turtle or a seabird takes that into their body, those contaminants leach out into the blood stream and is incorporated into the tissues.
There is now a huge range of studies that are coming out almost every month that are showing marine species at the absolute base of the food chain are ingesting these plastics and these contaminants.
Anything really that comes out of the ocean.. you cannot certify that as organic any longer.
It’s estimated fish in the North Pacific now consume up to twenty-four thousand tonnes of plastic a year. As one predator eats another contaminants biomagnify. This means the most vulnerable animal to the effects of toxic plastic contamination is the one at the very top of the food chain: us.
If you eat seafood in any fashion whatsoever the plastic pollution and corresponding contaminant problem has relevance to you.
That certainly hit home for me.
More than a billion people rely on fish as their primary protein source in daily diet. The average Australian eats around 18kg of seafood every year, and this figure is growing. We are confronted daily with newly discovered carcinogens and products that aren’t good for you. But just imagine how much plastic you’ve ingested through eating a seemingly harmless (and also seemingly healthy) seafood diet?
And we all play a role in getting it there.
Another blogger, OceanicExplorer, recently shared this infographic about where plastic in the ocean comes from. Whilst focussing on North American issues, similar rules apply to Australia. Click the image for a bigger picture.
So what can we do to help?
Reduce your plastic use. That’s not a particularly helpful thing to say. Pure Organic has a nice poster though:
If we all did just a few of these things, and thought a bit more about the plastic we use, maybe we would have a chance at cleaning up the ocean. As it is, all plastic that has ever been produced is still here, on this planet… (and that’s a thought for another post, methinks).
I for one don’t want it in my body as well. Do you?