Surely there cannot be many people who are not aware of the catastrophic amount of plastic present in the world’s oceans. It coagulates into great floating rubbish patches that cover large areas of the oceans, washes up on islands and beaches and winds up in the stomachs of a significant number of the world’s sea turtles, marine birds, fish and marine mammals. However, the current amount pales into insignificance compared to the amount that the World Economic Forum predicts will be floating into the oceans by the middle of the century. According to a report issued by the WEF recently, worldwide use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Very regrettably, we are not currently doing a nearly good enough job in reusing, recycling or safely disposing of plastic products with devastating consequences.
When plastic was invented over a century ago, manufacturers proudly announced that this new material was indestructible. That was viewed as one of its great advantages. It would appear that no one at the time asked the question what would happen to this extraordinary material once we have finished with it. It seems that we now know the answer: it poisons and kills!
The scourge of plastic pollution as well as the acidification and rising temperatures of the oceans caused by climate change and global warming, amongst other issues, was recently beamed into our living rooms and consciousness by the BBC’s award winning “Blue Planet II” series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, a world renowned veteran broadcaster, naturalist and British “national treasure”.
Apparently, the show was the most watched programme in the UK in 2017 and is due to be shown in many other countries. With its outstanding camerawork and technical brilliance, it brought to life a watery world that contains 90% of the biomass of our planet. Sir David’s narration is spell binding. Faced with adversity on a global scale, humans are often unable to engage unless it becomes personal or tangible. Accordingly, the final episode of the series was a heartbreaking and shocking account of how the pollution of our oceans affects marine life. It made us weep to see a pilot whale mother nursing its dead calf poisoned by plastic intake or watching albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic and mother dolphins potentially exposing their new-born calves to pollutants through their contaminated milk.
In David Attenborough’s own words, “for me, there was no scene in Blue Planet II more heart-rending than one in this week’s programme. In it, as snowflakes settle on the ground, a baby albatross lies dead, its stomach pierced by a plastic toothpick fed to it by its own mother, having mistaken it for healthy food. Nearby lies plastic litter that other hungry chicks have regurgitated.”
The episode ends with a powerful rallying call to do more to protect the environment. Our wellbeing is inextricably bound up with the health of the oceans. We depend on the creatures that live there for much of our food and are likely to do so increasingly as our numbers continue to grow. More importantly, oceans absorb a huge amount of the greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels in the past and future though this is neither desirable nor sustainable.
Faced with environmental problems on such an enormous scale, the danger is to disconnect and assume that nothing can be done on an individual level and delegate the problem to governments, companies or future generations. However, unless we all act now, the latter will not get to enjoy what we took for granted and allowed to disappear or die.
Luckily, many companies have realised the danger and are taking measures to reduce the amount of plastic bags and packaging they use. And as consumers we can simply stop using plastic unnecessarily.
Many of our members are using their shows to provide platforms for organisations and companies engaged in research and education and champion manufacturers who are sourcing and using sustainable products and manufacturing methods. Also encouraging are the many activities and forums at shows specifically aimed at young people to engender interest in and access to marine leisure activities whilst, at the same time, emphasising the need to learn about and respect the environment. If we all pull together, fully engage and do the best we can on an individual, national and global level, we may just be able to preserve and enjoy our magnificent Blue Planet for generations to come.