Jervis Bay in the Shoalhaven, NSW has got to be one of the most beautiful destinations in Australia. We may be biased, but the coastlines and waterways in our backyard have the credentials for being some of the best on the planet. Whether you are a water person, a beach goer or simply enjoy the natural environment and the wildlife, we all have a vested interest in keeping it the way we like it – free from waste.
But our coastlines are becoming more and more threatened by the invasion of man-made refuse. The problems we face with waste polluting our waters and threatening marine creatures is becoming more and more alarming. That waste, is predominantly from plastic that we use in our everyday lives.
According to UNESCO (2017) 220 Million tonnes of plastic is produced every year. We are surrounded by it, whether they are hard plastics from phones, TVs, toys or household goods or soft plastics in the form of clothes, bags, food packaging and bottles. Even smaller, almost invisible forms such as plastic beads that can be found in some soaps and shower gels. These products are not only impacting our wildlife, but have an enormous health risk on humans consuming fish that may have ingested plastics.
Convenience and a reliance of certain products in our lives have increased our need for plastic materials every year. However, disposing of plastics is becoming a problem and sadly too much ends up in our waterways.
The problem is that the various forms of plastic waste can take a different amount of time to breakdown or decompose but even with the effects of sun, air and water, many plastics do not break down for many years – monofilament fishing line can take 600 years to break down. Whilst the variation of decomposition time varies between products, the critical thing is what happens to the environment and wildlife during that period whether on our coasts, submerged or floating in our oceans.
Two plastics that are found floating in our seas are polypropolyne, which is used for straws, bottle caps or dairy containers or polyethelene that is used to manufacturer plastic bags, milk jugs detergent bottles or butter containers to name a few.
These are just some of the things that are currently floating in our oceans and today it is estimated that there are over 236,000 tonnes of plastics floating around the globe (Weule, 2017) and according to National Geographic (2015) some four Billion plastic micro-fibres per square kilometre litter the ocean depths. In Australia, some four million plastic bags are used each year and according to Clean Up Australia, 150 million of these end in our oceans and waterways (Greenpeace, 2017).
For Australia, coastal pollution is regarded as a bigger problem than out in the open oceans and some of the ways animals are affected by plastics are mainly down to floating plastics where entanglement is a huge problem. According to Dr Wilcox from CSIRO (Weule, 2015) between 5,000 and 15,000 sea turtles are entangled each year in Northern Australia alone as a consequence of old fishing gear along the coastlines.
Additionally, ingested plastics have a major affect on our wildlife and since it takes so long for plastics to break down, the smaller the pieces become, the easier it is for animals to eat them thinking it is food. In an article by the ABC, Libby Hall from Taronga Zoo in Sydney explains some of the hazards for Sea Turtles
Wildlife that ingest plastics can cause blockages, ruptured intestines or toxic poisoning, and when it is estimated that 90% of seabirds eat plastic, it’s a rather hard fact to swallow. (Weule, 2015)
Doing our part for keeping our coasts clean can be very simple and our local Vincentia Public School is running an initiative to educate children on the importance of reducing our plastic consumption and proper disposal or recycling.
However, this education also starts in the home. We need to ensure that our children are able to experience the beaches and the wildlife around them and not grow up taking it all for granted.
Do the right thing.