Saturday, 4 May 2013

Marine Debris - The First Strand

A while back I promised I would post something on marine debris. This is where it starts!

Our wasteful habits, and especially the ways in which we treat our wastes, are impacting even the furthest reaches of the oceans and the animals that live there. Even oceanic islands far from big cities have their shorelines corrupted by piles of marine litter; much of it is high-persistent plastic and all of it has the capacity to harm wildlife. National Geographic provides a nice little primer on marine debris here

You will probably have seen distressing images of birds, turtles or seals ensnared in plastic rubbish and whilst the scale of entanglement and the threat that this brings are unclear, it is reasonable to assume that tens, and maybe hundreds, of thousands of animals are being impacted each year. Incredible numbers! Added to these sad visions of our casual cruelty are equally shocking images of the biggest animals of all the great whales towing fishing netting; their swimming impaired and often with terrible wounds.  

Sadly, we know that entanglement in plastic wastes and lost fishing gear often brings prolonged suffering. It is a welfare problem on a massive scale and it goes on largely out of sight.

Marine litter comes in many forms, from derelict fishing net to small plastic pellets.  The smaller pieces may be ingested and this now brings a new concern about plastics both clogging the guts of those animals that eat it and also carrying toxic chemicals into their bodies.

The only good news is that this growing problem is one that we can all help to address. Whilst scientists are working diligently to better understand how litter is distributed around the oceans and identify the hot spots and key sources, we can all reduce, reuse, recycle, and participate in local beach or stream cleanups. If we each do a little, together we can make a big difference. 

Coming up is a public seminar on Marine Debris organised under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission. This will be held at the Woodshole Oceanographic Institution in the US. Details can be found here:

I am attending and will report back here and I will also provide link to some other sources of information on this issue.

My own review on what is know about marine debris and whales and dolphins can be found here: Cetaceans and Marine Debris: the Great Unknown.

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