The tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet has resulted a rapid acceleration of science and technology where the human race has acquired the power to transform their environment in countless ways. This has eventually resulted many out sized problems, which have become so difficult to grasp in scale and sometimes engendering only a feeling of helplessness.
Case in point, ‘Plastic’, one of the most versatile materials of the world, has become the greatest environmental challenge of our time. Thus, it has become the buzzword of the era simply because of the catastrophe it had brought upon our wild life, nature and our health. The news we hear on such cases are utterly alarming.
The most recent news was reported on Monday (19th November 2018) from Indonesia, as a thirty one foot Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) had been washed ashore off Kapoto Island in Wakatobi National Park, dead. The things that had been found inside the Whale seems to be like a beach party list. According to local Indonesian officials, the autopsy of the Whale’s stomach had revealed more than 1,000 assorted pieces of plastic including plastic cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles, pieces of string, flip-flops, hard plastic and what not. The plastic that had been clogged inside had weighed nearly six kilograms.
The carcass had been already decomposing at the time of discovery and thus, the veterinarians and investigators had been unable to determine whether the ingested plastic, in fact had caused its death.
Sperm whales are carnivores who usually have a diet of giant squids supplemented with octopus, shrimps, crabs and sometimes small sharks. In such a situation it is an obvious fact that these plastic accessories could have been ingested by them accidentally or along with their meals with the water currents.
It is crystal clear that ingesting plastic is extremely harmful for giant marine mammals like Sperm Whales as it can give whales a false sense of satiation, leading them to eat less food that provides the nutrients they need. Nicholas Mallos, director; Trash Free Seas program at Ocean Conservancy further explains that consumption of plastics can lead them to reduced weight and energy which loosens their swimming speed, making them more vulnerable to predators. Then, couldn’t this be a possible reason for its death?
Sperm Whales are cosmopolitan and are categorized as one of the endangered groups of mammals under the Endangered Species Act and are considered as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In such a condition, the dead Sperm Whale in Indonesia portrays the out sized problem of excess usage of plastics.
In accordance with a study published in a Science journal this year, Indonesia was the world’s second biggest polluter of plastic waste in 2015, only behind to China. The study says that the country’s 260 million people produce 3.2 million tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste a year and 1.29 million tonnes of them end up in the oceans. In this situation, the Indonesian government is making efforts to reduce the use of plastic nationwide to meet a goal of reducing plastic use by 70 percent by 2025.
This was not the only case reported so far. Plastics accessories are believed to kill hundreds of marine animals each year. In June, a pilot whale had been reported dead off southern Thailand and the autopsy recorded 80 plastic bags inside its stomach. Back in February, another sperm whale had washed up to Spain with 64 pounds of plastic in its stomach. In 2016, thirteen (which is a massive number) Sperm Whales had beached themselves in Germany with full of plastics in their stomachs.
Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the natural environment and had created serious hazards to countless marine species beyond Sperm Whales. These can entrap, choke, poison animals as well as disrupt their natural habitats and behavior. Not only to the marine life, it impacts human food chain as well. If plastic continues to enter oceans in an increasing rate, incidents such as in Indonesia won’t be that infrequent for us in future.
What would this lead us to?
Earlier in 2018, the European Parliament voted for a banning of single-use plastics across the European Union by 2021. Also, the states and municipalities across the United States are increasingly imposing bans on a number of single-use plastic products.
Most importantly, Sri Lanka has also implemented a ban on single-use plastic products from January 2018, which is set a goal to make our ocean and coastline pollution free by 2030.
We’ve seen a lot of positive action, but the truth is that we all need to do more. Using non-plastics or paper bags for food packaging, using cloth bags, refusing plastic straws and cutlery, using refillable glass bottles, picking up any plastic that you see when walking and recycling and reusing any necessary plastics item are some of the practical initiatives that have been taken so far to beat plastic pollution.
Fighting against plastic pollution doesn’t start with refusing plastic; it starts with a change in consciousness. This change allows us to recognize that with every choice we make, we are voting either for or against the kind of world we wish to see.
I believe that we are not too late for that, aren’t we ?