‘Plastic’: the current bad word on everyone lips. The media, schools, beach bars, even my parents are talking about it. The fact is, we have a big problem with plastic.
So on that note, tell me, what do you see in this picture? A cute sea lion perched on a rock? A sea lion hanging out with his sea lion buddies? Or something more sinister? If I told you there was plastic in the picture, could you identify where it is?
The sad truth
In truth, this is one of the saddest things I’ve seen while travelling and it really brought home why scientists and environmental experts are screaming at the top of their lungs ‘STOP SINGLE-USE PLASTIC!’ This Steller sea lion may look like she is living the good life, hauled up on a rock with her pals.
But there it is, plain to see for those who have an eye for detail. This female has a ring of plastic caught around her neck. Perhaps it is hard to spot because her thick blubbery skin has started to grow over the ring, making this product of human manufacturing, a part of her body.
Stop and think about that. Her skin is growing over the plastic because she can not escape it. How awful is that?
Where does the plastic come from?
Marine debris is commonly found throughout our oceans and seas. When we throw away a plastic item – let’s say a water bottle, fishing net or packaging, there are limited places it can go. Yes, it might get collected by waste disposal vehicle, taken to the dump… and then what? Where does it end up then?
Until now, a lot of the U.K.’s plastic was being shipped to China and burned. But in this process of transporting, moving, transferring, a lot of it was still ending up in our sewerage systems, our coastlines and, in turn, our oceans.
But you recycle, right? Great, but recycling is currently having a tiny impact on the state of our plastic waste thanks to the mentality of the big manufacturers. The fact is, only 7% of recyclable plastic is used in items such as Coca Cola plastic bottles because they worry we won’t buy their products if their bottles are not clear. It’s insane.
So, we know a million plastic bottles are bought every minute. You do the maths. How much is recycling paying off?
How does plastic effect wildlife?
Unfortunately young seal and sea lion pups tend to play with debris they find in the sea without knowing the harm they could cause. Once a ring like the one in this picture has been caught around a sea lion’s neck like this, it can cause pretty nasty injuries, even infection. You can actually see the wound where it has done exactly that in this picture. That ring has rubbed and rubbed away at this sea lion’s neck until it left her red raw. She couldn’t remove it, so her skin has started growing over. Worst case scenario? Sometimes entanglement leads to strangling, and death.
What can I do to make a difference?
So here’s something to think about – next time you throw rubbish away, think about where it may end up. Packaging straps, plastic wraps and sheets, fish hooks, nets, ropes – even rubber bands – can cause animals severe distress. They could kill. Cutting these up so they are no longer looped, or large enough to suffocate or strangle might make all the difference.
Here are a few more tips to stop plastic endangering our wildlife:
1. Reduce your use, particularly of single-use plastic: Make sure the plastic you do use is reusable, and reuse it – as much as possible.
2. Cut up packaging: If you do throw away covers, packaging straps, bubble wrap, rings or similar items, cut them up. Imagine what could suffocate, fit around the neck or in the mouth of a squirrel, cat or dog and cut things up appropriately. Unfortunately, very small bits of plastic are also a choking danger to marine life and birds.
3. Pick up litter you see lying around: be that on the beach, in the street or outside your house. Challenge yourself to pick up a few (10, 15, 20, 30) pieces as you go about your day. Foxes, squirrels, birds and other land animals can have a similar fate if they unknowingly end up swallowing plastic.
4. Leisure items can be a danger too: Rope, fishing lines and nets are particularly dangerous to marine life. If you see these on beaches, pick them up and get rid of them properly.
5. Spread the word: If you know anyone who goes fishing, encourage them not to dispose of used lines and nets over the sides of the boat – and to take these home with them.
Can one person make a difference?
Yes! Everyday people doing these little things make such a difference. Remember those ring pulls that used to detach from cans? They could cause choking or injury to the throats of small animals. Coca Cola and other companies stopped making cans that way because of everyday people campaigning.
Those plastic six-pack holders we used to see everywhere? Ditched for cardboard because they were causing too many animal deaths by suffocation and constriction.
See, we can do it! Get involved.
Finally, check out Sky’s Ocean Rescue web page for more ideas for ideas on how you can reduce your own plastic use.
Learn more about Mountain gorillas.