Our story about therescue of a baby seal caught up in fishing net at Manyana certainly captured the attention of the internet, turning up on more than a million Facebook feeds. Almost half a million people watched the video of the freed seal making a dash for the ocean, where it no doubt felt it would be safe.
The story also highlighted the dangers to marine life of carelessly discarded plastics, dumped either in the ocean itself or on the shoreline. Were it not for the intervention of caring humans, the baby seal would have endured a horrific death.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society describes the plastics in our oceans as a silent killer. “It will outlive us, outswim us, and threatens to undo us,” the society writes on its website.
The problem is that plastic, unlike many other pollutants, never goes away. Even though it breaks down eventually, those fine particles then enter the food chain, turning up in the guts of marine animals.
The millions of tonnes of rubbish that endup in our oceans finds itself concentrated incurrents in massive drifts. One, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be the size of Texas –a toxic soup in the northern part of the ocean for which we all bear a measure of responsibility.
Even if we don’t dump it directly in the ocean, plastic will find its way there via stormwater drains and creek systems. That bag you let blow away at the riverbank picnic ground kilometres from the sea has every chance of finding its way to the ocean where it can cause harm to sea birds, fish or turtles.
The micro plastics used in some body scrubs wash down our drains and eventually out to sea, where they end up in the food chain.
According to the Marine Conservation Society, almost 90 per centof the marine debris found on Sydney’s beaches is plastic, mostly bottles, caps and straws.Australians buy 600 million litres of bottled water a year anduse 10 million plastic bags a day.
Older readers will recall a time when groceries were packed in brown paper bags, water came from a tap and plastic was a relatively new and unloved product. When freed after decades in jail,Nelson Mandela wrote that the biggest change he witnessed was plastic litter everywhere.
Community efforts to banish plastic and to clean it up are to be applauded. We all have a stake in keeping our oceans clean.
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