In June 2018 it was reported a Whale died off the coast of Thailand after having eaten 80m plastic bags. 80 plastic bags. Holy crap. 80 bags….This is one of millions upon millions of animals who are ingesting plastic on a daily basis. It is now estimated that up to 97% of seabirds have plastics in their stomachs.
A Sculpture of a Dead Whale entirely made of plastic made the headlines to highlight the growing emergency of plastic pollution in our oceans and the BBC has produced a dedicated Plastics Watch website to encourage people of all ages to think about their plastic waste and what they can do to limit it whilst their investigative documentary Drowning in Plastic saw wildlife biologist encounter some of the depressing pinch points of plastic pollution as well as some of the more hopeful solutions that can found to combat it.
Unfortunately plastic is perhaps one of the most useful materials in modern society and its only through the harrowing images that we see on documentaries such as Drowning in Plastic that we’re able to see the overwhelming damage that this material inflicts on wild creatures as well as the more insidious pollution that is creates for the wider ecosystem.
Countries around the world are banning plastic bags and taking other measures to reduce the amount of plastic we use, but the tide of plastic pollution is still growing. By examining this problem at root source, Drowning in Plastic makes us understand the truly global nature of this problem. Plastic thats gets washed into rivers in Indonesia ends of snaking its way into the most pristine environments and the sheer volume is overwhelming.
We explored the devastating plastic problem and the need to take action and we know know that 90% plus of the world’s ocean going seabirds are ingesting plastic, leading to catastrophic consequences for sea bird populations.
‘We saw an entire colony of shearwater chicks emerge from their burrows for the first time,’ says Liz. ‘Up until then they should have been feeding on a nutritious diet from the ocean, but when their parents go hunting for food they often mistake plastic for fish or squid.
‘The chicks that have been fed plastic are often so weighed down they can’t fly, or so weak they can’t get through the surf.’
The scenes in this documentary are distressing. We see sea-bird chicks having their stomachs pumped full of water to try and remove the plastic and the distress is mirroed in Liz Bonnins own visible reaction:
‘I’ve seen some pretty gruesome things but this hits you between the eyes because it’s so real. Nothing can prepare you for that.
‘I had a lump in my throat for the vast majority of the filming, not only because it was such a hard thing to watch but also because it drove home how our behaviour has led to something so catastrophic, that all these animals are suffering at our hands. It’s disgusting.’
But it’s not just the physical plastic that’s causing a problem. We learn when it breaks down it enables bacteria to thrive and multiple, threatening coral reefs and providing a whole new way to transport viruses and diseases around the globe. Microplastics in the oceans also create an impossible task in trying to clear up our mess too; these are plastics no larger than a spec of dust, infecting every corner of the seas and potentially causing health problems that are not fully understood yet.
So what can we do?
The obvious answer is use no plastic. But how realistic is that?
It can be done; here are just 10 Ways to Remove Plastic and the Best Alternative
But the real solution has to be in removing the problem at source. We need to be cleaning up the mess as much as we can, but if trillions more tons are being leached into the oceans every year then it’s a bit like a hamster on a wheel; going nowhere fast.
Write to companies who use a lot of plastic, speak to your local supermarkets about their plastics policy and most of all lobby your local MP, Council and National Government to find out what they are doing about tackling the plastics problem.