PETER RYAN ON OCEANS OF PLASTIC - BLO MEETING REPORT
Posted on the 23rd June 2016
Professor Peter Ryan, Director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, enthralled a packed Mollergren Park hall during his lecture last Monday on “Oceans of Plastic” and its detrimental impact on seabirds and mammals.
Peter showing slide of mouse feeding on albatross chick's skull on Marion Island
Some of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust volunteers that attended the talk
Some of the “Gee whiz” facts he shared with BirdLife Overberg members include:
- 290 million tons of plastic is produced every year;
- 8% of global oil production is used to produce these plastic products;
- According to global estimates more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 250 000 tons are afloat in our oceans;
- 5 – 12 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year;
- SA is 11th on the list of countries putting plastic in ocean – ahead of India with its 1,3 billion inhabitants (more than a sixth of the world population). More than half of our waste is mismanaged. There is evidence that SA is becoming a “garbage pouch”, with litter accumulating in our oceans;
Entanglement with fishing line - Cormorant skull image from BirdLife Overberg archives
- Entanglement is a huge problem, but the effects of plastic ingestion are far worse – parents feed plastic to their chicks, who have never been to sea, because they think it is food. Seabirds and mammals can die of starvation because a stomach full of plastic makes them feel satiated.
- Especially petrels and great shearwaters often end up with a stomach full of plastic;
- The percentage of sea bird populations affected: phalaropes (46%); petrels (31%); storm petrels (36%).
- Plastics also contain toxic elements and additives, which become part of the food chain and ultimately affect humans.
- Plastic pollution also affects turtles – several hundreds are brought to the Two Oceans Aquarium with stomachs full of plastic. The plastic can rupture their bladders and cause death. It can also block or tear the digestive tract. Due to a gas build-up turtles become bloated and are unable to dive.
Fishing line collected from Harderbaai, Onrus on just one morning - Image from BirdLife Overberg archives
Cable ties represent a huge problem during crayfish season - Image from BirdLife Overberg archives
Top 5 applications when plastic is not fantastic:
- Plastic earbud sticks
- Individual sweet wrappers
- Nipple caps (cool drink bottles)
- Plastic sucker sticks.
Bottle tops collected from Onrus beach - Images from BirdLife Overberg archives
Plastic straws collected from Die Plaat
The versatility of plastic, the fact that it is light, cheap and has a long lifespan, means that it is not easy to replace. For instance, replacing of plastic carrier bags with paper ones is not a greener solution – keep in mind all the trees which will have to be felled.
The fact that Inaccessible island, 3 000 km from its source area in South America and in the middle of nowhere, is heavily polluted by plastic products, is an indication of how persistent plastic is and how easily it is displaced by means of wind or water. Decomposition can only take place by means of ultraviolet rays. If organisms such as barnacles become attached to plastic products, they gain weight and sink to the bottom of the ocean, where they can survive for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Replacing plastic by other products is not really viable, therefore the responsible management of solid waste is the only solution.
Social images by Carin & Anton
Our thanks to Ilse for producing this report
and our appreciation to Elaine, Hele, jenny and Maureen for the fantastic soup prepared for the evening.