After watching A Plastic Tide, which aired on SKY Atlantic last week, I am feeling inspired and somewhat hopeful about the current marine litter situation. It is an issue we are seeing globally and the programme conveyed that well. Correspondent Thomas Moore started with a visit to Mumbai, India and we were shown a mass of plastic and litter on a beach where the locals once loved to swim and have fun. The sand was barely visible. Afroz Shah, a beach cleaner and ocean-lover explained that it should be everyone’s need to clean the beach, because if this was the case, the problem would be sorted out.
“No species has the right to destroy someone else’s house.”
I really liked this quote from Afroz. His passion for the sea and the marine-life was so obvious and I really sympathised that his beloved beach was now in such a state. Fishing boats in the area were lying idle and only catching plastic in their nets. One man said this has been a growing problem for the past 20-30 years.
Rubbish is now accumulating in even the most remote areas and single use plastic is the ultimate offender, rather than just plastic in general. Only 5% is effectively recycled, according to the programme. At Thames Water, they spoke about finding wet-wipes that have been flushed away in people’s homes. Unaware that these things are made from a plastic-derived material, people don’t always realise that they will be sticking around for a long time. Out of sight, out of mind is unfortunately the case.
In Plymouth, their observation of micro-plastics showed that broken down plastic never truly disappears, it just becomes microscopic. In a lab in the Netherlands, dead seabirds are cut open to see what has caused their premature death. You could see that their layer of fat below the feathers had completely burnt away, because they have not eaten proper food, only plastic. This gives them the sensation of being full. They found 18 pieces inside the stomach of one seagull. It is heartbreaking. The equivalent for a human would’ve been a lunchbox full of trash.
A young diver in India gave an insight into ghost gear, something which I am looking at right now in my project. Thousands of miles of drifting net and rope is entangling wildlife in the sea, often causing slow suffocation for animals such as turtles. Plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish (aka FOOD!) to turtles so they also have been known to try and eat them. Plastic bags have been banned completely on some Indian islands, but they are still receiving litter from elsewhere.
This photo above shows a Loch in Scotland, previously paradise for locals but now strewn with rubbish. The community is trying hard to tackle it, but they are becoming tired of the problem. Litter has been found from Australia and Japan – showing that actually there is only one ocean and it is carrying everybody’s litter. Tourism has been affected, because visitors think the litter is coming from local people.
Even after all of this, the programme managed to end on a positive and uplifting note. Through the encouragement of Afroz, Mumbai’s people worked together and managed to shift the colossal amount of plastic on the beach that we saw at the start. It was all hands on deck and the result was amazing. Afroz had motivated his volunteers – and there were lots of children – to the point where they felt that cleaning rubbish was addictive! They also said they were waiting to swim there again one day. It is sad that the ocean is being abused, especially when so many of us have a deep-rooted connection and love for it. I would encourage you to watch A Plastic Tide, but also to limit and dispose of waste properly. Let’s learn from Afroz and his volunteers!