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Rabu, 27 September 2017

Steve Backshall: We can win the war against plastic



Two years ago, I found myself walking down the paradise beach of an uninhabited Pacific island, delivering a piece to camera about how I was in a land time had forgotten, countless miles from the nearest human being.


The secret I didn’t reveal was that the crew and I had spent the previous hour using palm fronds and my soundman’s boom microphone as makeshift brooms, sweeping the sands clear of plastic drinking bottles that had bobbed over from the other side of the Pacific — sun-bleached Tonka truck toys from another continent and creepy glassy-eyed dolls straight out of a horror movie.


It looked like a toddler had just had a tantrum and torn apart their toy chest.



Two years ago, I found myself walking down the paradise beach of an uninhabited Pacific island, delivering a piece to camera about how I was in a land time had forgotten, countless miles from the nearest human being



This modern flotsam and jetsam is borne around the world on the ocean currents, and deposited on shorelines like that and thousands of others in an infernal multi-coloured slick of trash.


Yesterday, David Attenborough launched his new TV series of the Blue Planet, which highlights what he calls the ‘catastrophic effects’ of the release of an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s seas. It has even been suggested the plastic in our oceans will soon outweigh the fish.


Indeed, a scientific team on an Arctic expedition with the explorer Pen Hadow has just discovered blocks of polystyrene hundreds of miles from land, polluting remote ice floes.



What I didn’t reveal was that the crew and I had spent an hour using palm fronds and my soundman’s boom microphone as makeshift brooms, sweeping the sands clear of plastic drinking bottles that had bobbed over from the other side of the Pacific



Sorry if this is a bit depressing, but bear with me. The good news is that this is a fight we can win, just as we did with the CFC chemicals in fridges that were damaging the ozone layer, asbestos in our attics, and smoking in restaurants.


But if people don’t understand just how bad the problem has become, there won’t be the will to solve this ecological crisis. The best way is for me to tell it from my own perspective, as someone lucky enough to have spent 25 years travelling for a living as a television naturalist on programmes such as Deadly 60 and Fierce. Filming seabirds in the Antarctic southern ocean, seemingly as far away from humans as you can imagine, I discovered that one of the most common causes of seabird deaths is marine plastic.


Birds such as albatross that ‘dip feed’ by swooping down on the water’s surface for colourful flashing prey like squid are ingesting huge amounts of plastic that they mistake for tasty treats.



Sorry if this is a bit depressing, but bear with me. The good news is that this is a fight we can win, just as we did with the CFC chemicals in fridges that were damaging the ozone layer, asbestos in our attics, and smoking in restaurants



Researchers showed us the skeleton of a once-majestic albatross. Where its stomach had been was now a bright ball of bottle-tops, straws and even a plastic toy soldier. (That’s one reason I was glad to read this week that the Wetherspoons pub chain is to stop using millions of plastic straws every year. Plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade.)


Tragically, this albatross’s fate was not unusual.


Other researchers studying 34 different species of seabird found that three-quarters had plastic gunk in their stomachs. One of my first shoots for The Really Wild Show about 15 years ago was filming the Arribada; one of the greatest events in nature, where tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles come ashore en masse to breed.


When I returned recently, it was alarming to see how many of the female turtles had plastic tapes and wraps tangled in their flippers. Horribly, some had lost their appendages completely.


Here in UK seas, leatherback turtles — yes, we do have marine turtles in our waters — suffer because they are partial to jellyfish.


With their bleary eyes, turtles are not known for 20-20 vision (I once saw one trying to mate with a floating marker buoy) and a plastic bag swept on the ocean currents looks much like jellyfish.



Researchers showed us the skeleton of a once-majestic albatross. Where its stomach had been was now a bright ball of bottle-tops, straws and even a plastic toy soldier



If they take a bite at a bag, the backward-facing spines in their throat — designed to prevent jellyfish washing back out of their gullets — trap the plastic in place and they suffocate.


I proposed to my now wife Helen (Glover, the Olympic champion rower) in the southern African nation of Namibia.


But one of our most powerful memories of the trip was spending a day chasing around a young fur seal we’d encountered while out sea kayaking. It had packing tape wrapped around its body, which had clearly been cutting through its growing flesh for months and was slicing it down to the bone.



Other researchers studying 34 different species of seabird found that three-quarters had plastic gunk in their stomachs. One of my first shoots for The Really Wild Show about 15 years ago was filming the Arribada; one of the greatest events in nature, where tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles come ashore en masse to breed



We finally managed to pin it down, drag it ashore and cut the plastic free; but not without receiving a few lacerations from its teeth; the little blighter wasn’t nearly grateful enough.


Anyone who doubts packing tape can do great damage to an animal’s body should try opening an Amazon package without a pair of scissors. Or imagine ripping apart one of those plastic ring wraps that hold together a six-pack of beer cans if you didn’t have any hands. (Incidentally, those can holders are the nemesis of every wild animal, terrestrial and aquatic, so please, please shred them before throwing them away!)


Closer to home, we have teamed up with a local wildlife refuge and now release rehabilitated wildlife in our back garden. A good portion of the animals we take on will have either eaten or been caught up in plastic detritus. So how does that relate to the plastics flooding the seas?


Well, 80 per cent of marine litter originates on land. There are a multitude of ways that can happen, from bags at landfill sites tipping out and blowing away, to good old-fashioned litter.



When I returned recently, it was alarming to see how many of the female turtles had plastic tapes and wraps tangled in their flippers. Horribly, some had lost their appendages completely



A soft drinks bottle dumped in a Scunthorpe street, for example, can easily be swept into a storm drain, then into a river and out to sea. Then it will slowly make its way round the world until the day it chokes a dolphin in Australia.


So what can we all do to make things better? Well, chances are you’ve probably already done something by taking along your own reusable bags to the supermarket, instead of paying for a single use plastic one.


The plastic bag tax has been one of the single biggest triumphs in conservation of my lifetime, taking billions of single-use plastic bags out of the ecosystem every year. (And yes, it was largely to do with this newspaper’s passionate ‘Ban the Bags’ campaign.)


The other thing you should really do is try to recycle all your plastic, because at present 91 per cent of plastic is not recycled and that’s a situation we have to tackle if we are going to save the oceans.


There are lots of other things you can do in everyday life. If your favourite coffee shop or greasy spoon uses single-use stirrers or plastic cutlery, encourage them to start using metal cutlery instead; it’s the future, as well as the past.


Then there’s the issue of microbeads — microscopic bits of chemicals found in many common cosmetics.



Here in UK seas, leatherback turtles are partial to jellyfish. With their bleary eyes, turtles are not known for 20-20 vision (I once saw one trying to mate with a floating marker buoy) and a plastic bag swept on the ocean currents looks much like jellyfish causing them to suffocate



Until a government ban on microbeads in cosmetic products comes into effect — also the result of a Mail campaign — do not buy or use products that contain plastic microbeads. This is just flushing billions of microscopic particles out to sea and into the fish we eat.


How these monstrosities were ever legal is just beyond me. And then there are actual physical things you can do.


Come and join me on the Great British spring clean (greatbritish springclean.org.uk) next year, having a laugh while making British beaches even more beautiful. Yes, we may be picking up junk, but it’ll be at the seaside and we may even find gems such as mermaid’s purses (shark and ray eggs).


So don’t despair when you see pictures of marine animals dying because of our modern obsession with throwaway plastic.


Even David Attenborough says the current situation can be sorted out by finding a way to collect or break down the plastic already in the sea and by not putting any more in.


The oceans may be drowning in plastic, but we can turn the tide.


 


Steve Backshall: We can win the war against plastic Rating: 4.5 Diposkan Oleh: Fatih

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