Plastic on the menu as marine pollution spreads

Tonnes of plastic waste being dumped into the oceans affecting bird and marine species

By 2025 there will be a ton of plastic in the oceans for every three tons of fish worldwide. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

By 2025 there will be a ton of plastic in the oceans for every three tons of fish worldwide. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

 

Ten million tonnes of plastic are entering our oceans every year, and environmental experts believe that by 2050, plastic will actually outweigh fish in the sea.

This isn’t just a problem for the 600-plus species of marine life that suffer directly from plastic pollution. Because according to Olivia Jones, coastal programme officer with An Taisce, when fish ingest plastic the material can enter the food chain “and end up on your dinner plate”.

With increasingly large waves of plastic landing on the seabed every year – by 2025 there will be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish worldwide – Jones believes that everyone has a role to play in stemming the flow.

She told a Science Week audience at IT Sligo last night that 80 per cent of the plastic pollution in our seas comes from land-based activities including barbecues, picnics and people flushing unmentionables down the toilet.

Dirty dozen

Researchers have identified a “dirty dozen” list of items which get flushed down the loo. And three out of 10 Irish people are throwing these objects – which include cotton buds, baby wipes, tampons, cleansing pads, medicines, nappies and cigarette butts – into their toilets.

“People just don’t know that this is wrong – that’s why we initiated the ‘think before you flush’ campaign” Jones said.

She said there were other everyday items posing a threat to our oceans. “There are microbeads, which are tiny pieces of plastic, in a lot of cosmetics such as shower gels, toothpaste and face scrubs,” she pointed out. “The US has banned these and the EU is also looking at a ban.”

She said that toxins in chemicals can actually multiply as time passes and can have serious consequences for marine life and also for habitats in the sea.

With plastic marine debris estimated to adversely affect 44 per cent of seabirds and 43 per cent of sea mammals, Jones pointed out that a study of Irish seabirds carried out in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology , found that 93 per cent of northern fulmars had ingested plastic.

According to the documentary A Plastic Ocean, which was screened after Jones’s talk, more than 90 per cent of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs. Producers found one 90-day-old chick which had 276 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

“We can all do something,” stressed Jones. “We can take part in coastal clean-ups, we can put a bin in the bathroom so people don’t flush cotton buds down the loo and we can buy goods that have the least amount of packaging.”