Cigarettes, food wrappers, plastic bottles and bags… these are the top 4 items found on our coastlines and waterways according to oceanconservancy.org. With the news of an 85% drop in plastic bag usage in England due to the introduction of a 5p charge last October, you have to wonder: is that simple? If we were to tackle one by one the big hitters of our plastic culprits lining our beaches, will this make a difference?
Firstly, there is a lot of plastic is in our oceans right now. Microplastics (plastic fragments 5mm of less) are found in all of our five major ocean gyres around the world and in both the Atlantic and Pacific lies enormous’garbage patches’. These area contain large amounts of marine debris particles largely in suspension below the oceans surface, and in the case of the patch in the Pacific covers an area the size of Texas (at a minimum). Ecological studies have found these long-lasting plastics to cause entanglement of species, smothering of the seabed, ingestion by large numbers of sea turtles, sea birds, jellyfish, fish, causing toxic accumulation of substances in their bodies. Plastic litter also helps to facilitate the movement of invasive species and can be damaging to our safety and health as beach and ocean users. Scientists are only just discovering some of the impacts ocean plastics are having upon species, such as how lantern fish have been snacking prolifically on our plastic waste. A worrying fact is their populations make up approximately 50-60% of our deep sea fish biomass, leading to a bioaccumulation of toxins as these are in turn eaten by a large number of predators, such as squid and salmon and in turn passed onto us.
So more positively, what can we do about it? Well, for the plastic that is already in our oceans, 21 year old Boyan Slat is on the case! Founder of the crowdfunded Ocean Cleanup Project, Boyan aims to use sea currents and winds to skim off the plastic debris from some of our largest deep sea garbage patches and it is already in the testing phase. The next big plastic prevention campaign that has taken off is targeting micro-beads, found in a lot of face scrubs and beauty products, and the outlook is looking pretty good. The US have already banned their use in cosmetics and the UK is also considering a unilateral ban if the EU cannot come to an agreement. Some more biologically friendly-tech and edible solutions have also been invented to conquer the classic six-pack trap, famously used by Mr Burns on the Simpsons to dredge the oceans of all marine life! http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2016/05/18/edible-six-pack-rings/#.V6jBebgrLIV.
Cigarettes are still an issue, although with the introduction of E-cigarettes this could have an impact on the numbers of cigarette butts finding its way into our rivers and coastlines. It however largely will be attitudes which need to change in order to tackle the issue of plastic consumption which has somehow accumulated in our households much like a giant marine garbage patch in each of our homes. Just buying an average sandwich or item from amazon seems to come packaged in layers and layers of hard to open, large and unnecessary plastic packaging!
There are a number of ways you can get involved as an individual, volunteering with beach cleans, donating towards marine conservancy causes and try to cut down on the household waste you are using as a consumer. The reduction in plastic bag use has shown that people are aware of the problems of waste and are leaning towards a more environmentally friendly outlook. Greater awareness of our oceans and the damage we have caused and continue to cause, now mean that we can no longer regard marine plastics as out of sight out of mind. Now we know about the problems, its our job to fix it.
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