Blue Planet II Exposes The Threat of Ocean Plastic Pollution
Episode 4 of Blue Planet II focussed on life in the open ocean. We were treated to incredible footage of sleeping sperm whales, whale sharks looking for a place to birth their young and a possible answer to the age old question, where do baby turtles go after they are born? But something that also featured on this episode is the growing threat of ocean plastic pollution.
The episode mentioned the spill in 1992 of a shipping container filled with plastic bath toys. About 7,000 rubber ducks were accidentally released into the Pacific Ocean. Travelling the ocean currents, they have been found as far away as Australia, Russia and the High Arctic. One was even found 15 years later on the West Coast of Scotland highlighting that, although we praise plastic for its durability, it is exactly this trait that makes it such a dangerous threat to our oceans.
We saw how ocean currents act as a circulatory system. In fact, all of the oceans are connected via these marine highways. They are mostly used by wildlife like blue sharks that follow the oily residue on the current back to a feeding ground.
But like the fatty oils, plastic also travels around our oceans in the same way. And with up to 12 millions tonnes entering the sea every year, it’s being found in even the remotest places on earth from the uninhabited Henderson Islands to the Arctic Circle, and even the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
The most heartbreaking scene from this episode was of the short finned pilot whale carrying her newborn calf in her mouth several days after they had died. It is thought that the mother’s milk contained industrial chemicals present in the marine environment, many of which can be attached to microplastics, and that she subsequently poisoned the calf with her toxic milk. As David Attenborough narrated, it’s harrowing scenes like that drive home the point that we need to stop the flow of plastic into the ocean to protect marine life.
But there is evidence that ocean plastic pollution is also making its way up the food chain. Several studies have shown that there is plastic in the seafood that we eat. Plastic has been found in everything from our drinking water, to our sea salt and even our beer.
But what can you do to stop the flow of plastics into the ocean? You can start by reducing your individual plastic footprint. Use refillable water bottles and coffee cups. Refuse plastic drinking straws when you are out and bring your own bags when you go shopping. But it’s important to remember that ocean plastic pollution is such a large and pressing issue that we must do more than just take individual action.
Encourage Westminster to enact a deposit return scheme (DRS) in England. These are schemes where you pay a little bit extra when you purchase a plastic bottle and have that money repaid to you when you return it. DRS has been enacted in several countries and credited with increased collection rates for plastic bottle of up to 90%. Scotland is already looking into enacting DRS there. Tell Westminster that we want them to do the same.
We also need to hold corporations to account for the amount of plastic that they produce. Plastic bottles particularly are one of the most commonly found items on the ocean’s surface and during beach cleans. We’ve revealed that globally Coca-Cola has been producing over 110 billion single use bottles every year. They need to immediately reduce their plastic footprint by looking at switching to reusable bottles. We also want them to look into new ways of delivering their products like the smart fountain that they are piloting at the University at Reading. Join us in calling on them to reduce their plastic footprint.
Blue Planet has done a huge amount of our work for us in spreading awareness of the ocean plastic problem, but we’re only just beginning to confront it, and there’s going to be a lot of foot-dragging by industries invested in single use plastic. We need to take the momentum David Attenborough has given us and translate it into real action. Please act now and together we can seize the moment and protect our marine ecosystems from being buried in plastic.
About Tisha Brown
I am a campaigner on the oceans team.