Category Archives: Health

Plastic Oceans, Plastic Diet

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.

Courtesy One World One Ocean. Click for larger version.

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:

9 Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic

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?

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How to not get eaten by a great white shark

Great White SharkIn honour of Shark Week (arguably one of America’s favourite weeks of the year, according to Zimbio), I would like to resurface some news from earlier in the year:

Expedition White Shark is a new app that allows you to track (several) adult Great White Sharks via satellite.  Scientists from the Marine Conservation Science Institute (MCSI) have fitted Great White Sharks with custom built satellite transmitters, so that we can track them at the same time as the scientists.

Whilst the main aim of the project is to better understand Great White biology and raise awareness of these animals, it is my opinion that this project should be expanded and utilised by all local Surf Life Savers and organisations responsible for tracking sharks off human-infested beaches.

Have a look at the website.  I encourage you to invest in this potentially life-saving app.  (Life saving for you and the sharks.  All-round win!)

Alternatively, Willy Volk of the Huffington Post, a certified Rescue Diver, and Andy Casagrande, an Emmy-winning wildlife cameraman, have a few hints of what to do if you ever find yourself the unwanted interest of one of nature’s top predators.  My suggestion: don’t go where sharks go.  Hope that helps.

Shark Week is an annual event hosted by the Discovery Channel, with 2012 being its 25th year. Huffington Post has a good rundown of news from this week if you’re interested.

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SciSun: Oh The Pain

Love this – a lizard that’s actually named Monster could one day help humans to manage diabetes, food cravings and even Alzheimers.  Just goes to show how wonderful the natural world is, and how we must strive to protect what is left, for the sake of plants and animals themselves, as well as for us.


In the 1950’s and ’60’s there were a lot of scifi movies about giant, monstrous animals that attacked people: “The Tarantulas that Terrorized Texas”; “The Ants that Ate Albuquerque”; “The Locusts that wouldn’t Leave Lubbock”; “ The Snails that Slimed Seattle”; and so on. Of course all of those stories weren’t true (except for maybe the ‘Lubbock Locusts’. At the right time of year, there DOES seem to be quite a lot of locusts in Lubbock), and none of these animals are giant beasts determined to destroy humans. In reality all species are just trying their best to survive and live in their environment and overcome daily challenges. There is one animal, though, that people find so uncommon and frightening it even has ‘monster‘ in its name: Heloderma suspectum, the Gila Monster. And although they’ve been burdened with an unfair name, this humble desert lizard isn’t…

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