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March 22, 2019

Plastic oceans

Editorial

 
March 22, 2019

A dead whale on the shores of the Philippines has raised alarm once again about how much plastic we are dumping into the oceans. Biologists have said that they have not found more plastic in the belly of a marine animal than that found in the stomach of this whale. It is one of the worst cases of plastic poisoning on record. The dead Cuvier’s beaked whale had over 40 kilograms of plastic waste in its belly, including rice sacks and banana plantation bags. You could name some of the killers by reading off the advertising on the bags. Google back to November last year – and another whale turned up dead on Indonesia’s shores. Out of 61 whales that have turned up dead in a decade, at least 57 of them have been due to plastic poisoning. According to the UN, at least nine million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans each year. All marine mammals that have turned up dead in the last decade have had microplastics in their stomachs. Much of these come from synthetic fibres on items of everyday consumption, such clothes and toothbrushes.

We already know that over 90 percent of the world’s freshwater is contaminated with microplastics. Human beings thought that dumping plastic waste into the oceans was a way to get rid of the unending piles of rubbish that modern lifestyles produce. Instead, over the last decades, the extent of the pollution of the world’s water resources is becoming more and more clear. There is enough plastic in the oceans already to be present in the stomach of all marine life. Even if we do not care about marine life, the reality is that the same plastic makes its way into our food chain.

Effectively, in the last two centuries, we have made the very planet that nourishes us uninhabitable, both for other creatures and our own selves. How many species will we wipe out before it is our turn? The facts are scary. Oceans are polluted not just by plastic waste, but the rising levels of greenhouse gases are also increasing their acidity. Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide and nitrogen. This is in addition to oil leakages from tankers and the dumping of poisons, such as pesticide and fertilizer, into the ocean. It is clear that the threat to life in the oceans is real.

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