The problems of plastic waste in the World’s oceans is plain to see. Much of the material which washes up on coasts is plastic, be it drinks bottles or much smaller fragments. Plastic is not biodegradable, and once it is in the sea it remains in the environment for many decades, if not centuries.
It is stating the obvious that plastic gets into the environment because of the actions of people, with the largest quantities from the most populated areas. Plastic floats in ocean currents and reaches places great distances from where it originally entered the sea, such as islands far out in the oceans. For example, Lord Howe Island (LHI), a tiny South Pacific island which is 600 km east of the coast of Australia and has UNESCO World Heritage status, has a policy of returning waste to the continent of Australia in support of that status. However, when it was found that young shearwaters which bred on the island were dying before leaving the land, biopsies showed their stomachs to be full of plastic fragments. As is the case with our own Manx shearwaters, the wedge-tailed and flesh-footed shearwaters of LHI fly hundreds of kilometres to feed, in their case to the Continental Shelf off the eastern coast of Australia. There, they ingest plastic in mistake for food and feed it to their young back in LHI. How can they make such a mistake? Well, fragments of plastic in the sea looks like plankton and floating condoms resemble small squids. Many other sea creatures are killed by ingesting plastic, such as turtles and whales.
Representatives of many countries met at a conference in Kenya last week to debate the problems of plastic pollution in the World’s oceans. On Wednesday they signed a United Nations Resolution to eliminate plastic pollution in the marine environment. Hopefully, this resolution will lead to agreement to a legally binding treaty. Unfortunately, we all know how often treaties are broken, but it is time for respect to be shown to the Planet and to all the people and the other things living on it.
The Isle of Man has a problem with rubbish washing up on our shores which Beach Buddies make brave efforts to clear, but there is always more out there in our fairly shallow Irish Sea. While there is rubbish out in the sea and nothing to stop people adding to it, our beaches will always be in danger of being littered. Our seabirds, cetaceans and, indeed, fish and other marine life will be in danger of ingesting plastic rubbish, to their and our detriment. A lot of the rubbish comes from across the water, from any direction, which is one of the reasons why international treaties are needed to deal with such problems. Of course, it is not just the international community and individual countries which have a role in reducing plastic waste, so do companies and people as individuals.