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  Life   More Features  23 Apr 2018  A sea of plastic

A sea of plastic

Published : Apr 23, 2018, 12:11 am IST
Updated : Apr 23, 2018, 12:11 am IST

Plastic pollution is poisoning oceans, endangering marine life and ecosystems, thus, affecting health.

Representative image: students observe an installation made of plastic bottles.
 Representative image: students observe an installation made of plastic bottles.

Have you ever wondered where the plastic waste ends up? You probably won’t believe it if someone answers ‘inside a young male sperm whale that was found dead off the coast of Spain’. Believe it or not, it is true. Once again, it is a dire reminder that pollution has a great price, and that price is often paid by wildlife. The fate of the sperm whale maybe just another incident among marine species, as the use of plastic and unscientific dumping causes problems everywhere.

The plight of rivers across Kerala is another example of plastic waste that never goes away. It’s increasingly finding its way into our oceans and other waterbodies. Tons of plastic fragments — like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the oceans every day. How can we put an end to it? Are there any alternatives? Why don’t we use refillable metal containers? Why don’t we reuse cloth or mesh bags that will last for years and cause no harm?  

Similar questions aligned with the theme of Earth Day 2018 — End Plastic Pollution.

Marine ecosystem has been facing threats from plastic pollution. Large amounts of plastic waste are washed into the ocean every year, jeopardising the natural ambience of the marine life. Principal Scientist and head in-charge, Fishery Environment Management Division, Dr Kripa states, “Pollutants upset primary food production in water bodies by preventing the entry of sunlight into water, thus affecting the productivity of the region. Consumption of plastic by marine creatures causes severe digestive problems, which go mainly untreated. Reports suggest that the consumption of plastic by all kinds of fishes amounts to several tonnes every year. In addition to causing intestinal injury and death to shellfishes, plastic also triggers the risk of extinction of bigger fishes and other marine mammals across the food chain. Also, littering in beaches impacts tourism.”

Fisheries Department’s research wing conducts a number of awareness classes and symposium about marine debris and its issues, but it still remains as a threat. She explains, “Marine debris is any man-made, solid material that enters waterways directly through littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains. Ghost nets, that are left behind by the fisherman, also cause trouble. Proper waste management is the only solution.”

While it is our duty to ensure that we are not littering, activists like Purushan Eloor says governments have a key role in this.  “Our governments have failed to tackle the issue. They lack stringent law to prevent littering and plastic usage. Though we have projects like ‘waste to energy plant’ in Brahmapuram, we still have not reached a level where we could tackle the issue completely. The only way is to reduce the use of plastic. Government will have to urge and make plans to implement it,” he added.

More than eight million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, which is equivalent to dumping a truck filled with plastic into the sea every minute. Plastic bags, bottles and other disposable items are the most common littered objects, polluting and destroying entire ecosystems that are vital for the planet.

“According to recent studies, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, if governments don’t take immediate action. Marine life is in great danger and the prime reason for it is us, humans. Though people are not throwing the plastic waste into oceans, they are not aware of the danger of dumping it in public places. Because these plastic wastes reach oceans eventually. This has been the case of Kochi. The waters are polluted with plastic like never before. Fishes have a tendency to eat whatever tiny pieces similar to their natural prey, even if plastic, float in the sea. Plastic microparticles are getting into the flesh of the fish we consume. If we need to see a change, we should start working towards it. People have to show some civic sense,” says retired associate professor and environmental activist Dr C.M. Joy.

Tags: plastic waste, plastic pollution