Saturday, 15 August 2015

This Plastic Earth

Our waters are filled with plastic, the permanent, poisonous and deadly detritus of our "convenient" way of life.
Two years ago, I blogged about the terrible toll plastic products are taking on nature in "Rubbish". This covered the phenomenon of the Pacific gyre, a vast area of the international waters where plastic rubbish has gradually collected from all across the planet to form a new continent of rubbish. This chokes the seas, damaging plant and animal life and although every society, every nation and company in the world is responsible in some way, no one is taking any responsibility or action to clean it up. Even if we miraculously stopped all new plastic waste tomorrow, the tens of millions of tonnes already accumulated around our seas will remain, unchanging for decades and centuries.

Five plastic "continents" of plastic rubbish fill our Oceans
As highlighted in "Rubbish", birds often mistake pieces of colourful plastic for fish and feed it to their chicks, who eventually die as the plastic gathers in their tiny guts. Similarly, plastic shopping bags floating in sea water can appear to be jelly fish to hungry turtles, dolphins and whales. Fair-Fish estimate that as much as 24,000 tonnes of plastics are consumed annually by marine animals in the North Pacific alone - the global total could be as much as five to six times this.

Indigestible, indestructible, everlasting plastic. A boon to many aspects of our society and how we choose to live. But death to many many of our fellow creatures as well as an increasing problem as our landfill sites are saturated. And perhaps because of our economies' obsession with capitalist marketing and the attendant packaging which has exponentially covered more and more of what we purchase (even computer ink cartridges, it seems, need to be kept "fresh" through several near impenetrable layers of the stuff), people seem happy to throw it thoughtlessly away.

These six plastic bags killed a 15 year old leatherback turtle
The US Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 80% of marine pollution originates on the land. Most of that is plastic of some sort. The NRDC wants international regulation to hold producers of plastics to account, but in the deregulated economy we live and work in, effective action seems far away still.

The continuing crisis of the impact of plastic waste on creatures across the planet was highlighted by two news stories this week. One was a whale approaching some fishermen and keeping near them until they realised it was seeking their help to remove a plastic bag that had become caught in its mouth. The second was a turtle caught by some researchers who thought a parasitic worm had burrowed into the poor animal's nostril, causing it severe breathing difficulties. On closer inspection, they realised it was a plastic drinking straw, perhaps tossed from a cruise ship or simply dumped with other garbage literally anywhere on the planet, and now lodged deep inside the turtle's nose and breathing passage.

So here, in four videos, are some of the consequences of this pointless stuff - including the stories of the whale and the turtle, and another one about a baby dolphin. Bear in mind that these are the exceptions and the poor animals in them were "lucky" to have encountered humans intelligent and compassionate enough to have both the means and inclination to help them. Most end up like the whale in the final video, who died after accumulating over six square metres of plastic in his stomach - much of it consisting of disposable supermarket carrier bags.

Read more about the effect of our plastic RUBBISH here.


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