When the oceans cry: the great plastic tide

Recently, the World Earth day was celebrated globally. It is an annual event celebrated on April 22, every year. Across the world, various events were held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. The theme of this year’s event is “end plastic pollution”. In line with the theme of this year’s event, this article takes a look at the devastating effect of plastic pollution across our coasts and the environment at large.

The world’s population is living, working, vacationing, increasingly conglomerating along the coasts, and standing on the front row of the greatest, most unprecedented, plastic waste tide ever faced. For more than 50 years, global production and consumption of plastics has continued to rise and estimated 299 million tonnes of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4% increase over 2012 and confirming an upward trend over the past years.

Plastic is versatile, light weight, flexible, moisture resistance, strong and relatively inexpensive. Those are the attractive qualities that lead us, around the world, to such a voracious appetite and over consumption of plastic goods.

However, durable and very slow to degrade, plastic materials that are used in the production of so many products all, ultimately become waste with staying power. Our tremendous attraction to plastic, coupled with an undeniable behavioural propensity of increasingly over consuming, discarding, littering and thus polluting has become a combination of lethal nature. A simple work on any beach, anywhere, and plastic waste spectacle is present.

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Published in the Journal Science in February 2015, a study conducted by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbra’s National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), quantified the input of plastic waste from land into the ocean. From the results, every year, 8 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans. Its equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. In 2025, the annual input would be nearly 20 times the 8 million metric tonnes estimate- 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline in the world!

From the whale, sea lions and birds to the microscopic organism called zooplankton, plastic has been, and is, greatly affecting marine life on and off shore. In a 2006 report, plastic debris in the world’s oceans, Greenpeace stated that at least 267 different animal species are known to have suffered from entanglement and ingestion of plastic debris. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals annually, as well as millions of birds and fishes.

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Environmentalists have long denounced plastic as a long-lasting pollutant that does not fully break down, in other terms, not biodegradable. In 2004 a study led by Dr Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth, UK, reported finding great amount of plastic particles on beaches and waters in Europe, the Americas, Australia, Africa and Antarctica. They reported that small plastic pellets called mermaids tears, which are the result of industry and domestic plastic waste, have indeed spread across the world’s seas. Some plastic pellets had fragmented to particles thinner than the diameter of the human hair. But while some cannot be seen, those spaces are still there and are still plastic. They are not absorbed into the natural system, they just float around within it, and ultimately are ingested by marine animals and zooplankton.

The ‘silent world’ is shedding mermaid tears. A plastic-poison has undeniably been instilled by us, prompting an unwilling and illegitimate confrontation of two titans: one synthetic {plastic}, the other Oceanic. The crisis is of massive proportion. An unprecedented plastic tide has occurred, pervasively affecting the world’s oceans, beaches, coasts, seafloors, animals and ultimately, us.

Behind each and every piece of littered plastic debris, there is a human face. At a critical decision point, someone, somewhere, mishandled it, either thoughtlessly or deliberately. The ultimate symbol of our throw away life style is the plastic bag: 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags is the number consumed annually, which is about a million a minute. Plastic bags are commonly found in water ways, on beaches and in other unofficial dumping sites. Litter caused by notorious bags has been referred to as white pollution.

The simplest, yet highly effective action is the manual clean-up of the beaches, coasts, rivers, lands and estuaries. For instance, for the past 20 years, the Japan Environmental Action Network {JEAN} has been organising a yearly beach clean-up and survey. On an international level, the International Coastal Clean-up {ICC} was installed. The ICC engages the public to remove trash and debris from the world’s beaches and water ways, to identify the sources of debris, and to change the behaviours that cause pollution. The clean-up is run in conjunction with UNEP. It engages more than 40 million people from 120 different countries in clean-up operations.

Undeniably, a culture of behavioural changes, now in its infancy, need to further blossom and be implemented at all levels: individual, associative, governmental, legislative, industrial, technological, educational, philosophical, national and international. It simply starts with individual choices.

That is the enormous task, yet the enormous power as well because it resides within each and every one of us. Indeed, thanks to an increased awareness of the plastic pollution spread, local, national, individual, and associative actions have taken place worldwide to stop the plastic haemorrhage at the source.

In conclusion, Commandant Jacques- Yves Cousteau said, “the impossible missions are the only ones which succeed.” Volumes have been written concerning plastic pollution, but little has been done to reduce this deadly pollution. The abysmal depth and extent of the task before us ought to be never as inexhaustible and boundless as our dedication and compelling strive to greater changes.

This article was written by Joseph Ojochegbe Victor. He can be contacted via vik4chem007@gmail.com 

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