By Peter Frost in Britain:
Thursday, December 14, 2017 – 16:46
Attenborough catches up with the Morning Star
LIKE many of you I have been enjoying the BBC’s Blue Planet II. Some of the strange and unusual creatures that dwell in the depths of the oceans can really blow your mind.
I was particularly delighted that presenter David Attenborough dedicated a large section of the final programme in the series to an appeal and a warning about what we are doing to our oceans.
Attenborough told his audience of over 10 million: “For me, there was no scene in the Blue Planet II series more heart-rending than as snowflakes settle on the ground, a baby albatross lies dead, its stomach pierced by a plastic toothpick fed to it by its own mother, having mistaken it for healthy food.
“Being fed lethal plastic debris is a risk that every young albatross now faces. This one scene symbolises a major problem that today threatens all sea creatures worldwide. Plastic is now found everywhere in the ocean, from its surface to its greatest depths.”
He reminded us that every year, we dump around eight million tons of virtually indestructible killer plastic into the sea.
“Plastic is not the only threat to marine life. So are rising temperatures. As the planet as a whole warms, so do the oceans. And the effect of that on marine life is, if anything, more damaging than it is to life on land.
“If the sea temperature rises by one or two degrees in the tropics, the tiny coral polyps that over many centuries have built a reef begin to die and the great variety of creatures that once lived there are homeless.
“In the Arctic,” he continued, “ice has been steadily disappearing — the extent of sea ice cover in summer has been reduced by 40 per cent in the last 30 years.
“Yet all is not yet lost,” he concluded. “We can, right now, reduce the amount of plastic that we use in our everyday lives… We can also get together internationally to control the rate at which we take fish from the sea for our own consumption.
“Never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet — and never before have we had such power to do something about it. Surely we have a responsibility to care for the planet on which we live?
“The future of humanity, and indeed of all life on Earth, now depends on us doing so.”
His was indeed a powerful and necessary message.
Regular readers of this column might remember that almost exactly a year ago I had made almost an identical warning.
I spent the last New Year holiday on the Kent coast where early one morning I joined a band of public-spirited women and men on a mission to clean up one of the local beaches.
My companions were experts on these strange plagues washed onto our beaches. After our litter-pick we retired to the beach cafe for a welcome breakfast kipper and the group explained to me that unsightly as the large plastic litter was, there was an even more serious threat of plastic pollution to our beaches and indeed our lakes, rivers, canals and waterways.
This is the threat of millions of tiny pieces of plastic called microbeads.
I wasn’t surprised that Attenborough also chose to bring microbeads to his audience. These are plastic abrasive particles that are added to everyday cosmetic products such as face wash, toothpaste, cleaners and lots more. They are most frequently made of polyethylene but can be of other petrochemical plastics too.
Microbeads are small enough to go down your plughole and easily pass water filtration systems at your local sewage farm — usually they are smaller than 5mm.
Not all of the destructive plastic gets washed up onto beaches.
It isn’t just marine life, a recent study showed that one in 10 of all birds have plastic in their stomachs too.
New research is showing that tiny shrimp-like animals are eating plastic microbeads rather than natural foods.
Public pressure including a petition with over a third of a million signatures has convinced Environment Secretary Michael Gove to ban microbeads in personal beauty products from the end of 2017 but the campaign continues to extend that ban to industrial and domestic cleaning products too.
Those pressures must continue until all microbeads are banned.
There are natural abrasives that can replace the plastic versions but these are less profitable.
Gove has also been persuaded to set a working group to look at how a plastic bottle deposit return scheme could help reduce plastic waste in England.
At least a dozen nations already have such schemes, in which a small deposit is paid when purchasing the bottle. The deposit is returned when the empty bottle is brought back for responsible recycling.
Both Germany and Denmark, which have such schemes, have more than nine out of 10 bottles returned.
In England, just 57 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled — mostly through street collection schemes.
Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Scotland will introduce a similar scheme north of the border.
You can write to your MP or sign one of the online petitions urging Gove to remain solid on his pledges to stop plastic pollution — tell them Peter Frost and David Attenborough sent you!
A growing body of research shows that waste plastic is becoming a major source of environmental pollution, including as a potentially significant contributor of greenhouse gases, a principal cause of global warming. As has long been the case with fossil fuels, the plastics industry is attempting to suppress knowledge of the problem: here.
New research shows that mussels readily take in microplastic pollution fibers from the ocean but quickly flush most of them out again, according to a study by researchers from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. The findings were published in December’s Marine Pollution Bulletin: here.
A new study shows that microplastics are affecting the ability of mussels to attach themselves to their surroundings — potentially having a devastating impact on ocean ecosystems as well as a worldwide industry: here.
Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a new study of animals washed up on Britain’s shores: here.
Polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene are the most abundant microplastics in the Mediterranean coastal waters, according to a new study published by the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin -by the experts Miquel Canals, William P. de Haan, and Anna Sànchez-Vidal, from the Consolidated Research Group on Marine Geosciences of the Faculty of Earth Sciences of the University of Barcelona: here.
Tiny fragments of plastic in the ocean are consumed by sea anemones along with their food, and bleached anemones retain these microfibers longer than healthy ones, according to new research. The work is the first-ever investigation of the interactions between plastic microfibers and sea anemones, which are closely related to corals: here.
Plastic Is Just as Destructive to the Climate as Oil and Gas. Manufacturers churn out 448 million tons of plastic a year, bySonali Kolhatkar.