Plastic – weapon of mass destruction for the marine environment

Tasty jellyfish? No - balloons recovered from the sea between Ardnamurchan and Eigg, May 2016. (Photo H Sillitto)

Tasty jellyfish? No – balloons recovered from the sea between Ardnamurchan and Eigg, May 2016. (Photo H Sillitto)

Many members will remember the excellent talk we had last year from Matt Barnes of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). Matt made us acutely aware of the damage discarded plastic does to our marine life. Plastics can be eaten by marine life, often with fatal consequences. Plastic is found in the stomachs of Loggerhead Turtles, Seabirds and many species of UK-caught fish. And pieces that don’t get eaten break down into microplastics, forming part of a dangerous plastic smog in our seas. Plastic bags floating on the surface look like a tempting meal of jellyfish to turtles, who enthusiastically ingest plastic bags which then clog up their stomachs and prevent them digesting food, often with fatal results. “Knurdles”, tiny bits of plastic, get ingested by all sorts of marine organisms, so the delicious seafood you are eating tonight might well contain tiny bits of plastic.

The cumulative effect of small actions makes a big difference. The 5p charge for single-use plastic bags has apparently reduced the density of plastic bags in the seas around Scotland by 90%. We can each make a difference. Please don’t thoughtlessly  throw waste bits of plastic overboard. When you cut old cable ties with a knife, don’t let them fall overboard – put them in your pocket and put them in landfill. Plastic bags stay on board! And when you’re at home, please don’t throw waste plastic down the sink or toilet – most of what goes into our sewers ends up in the sea!

Even the innocent cotton bud can do immense damage. These single-use cleansing devices have a plastic stick which is not bio degradable. If they go to landfill, they don’t cause a problem in the short term. But if you flush them down the toilet,  it’s really bad news for marine life. Apparently, plastic cotton bud stems are now the number one item of plastic, sewage-related debris on our beaches and rivers  And there is an easy solution. The MCS have launched a “switch-the-stick” petition on 38 Degrees, asking retailers who sell cotton buds to insist that their suppliers switch from plastic to compressed paper sticks.

If you want to help this campaign, you might want to sign the petition. If you want to know more, please visit the Marine Conservation Society website. An please, please, please – don’t chuck plastic overboard when you are sailing or doing maintenance on your boat – bring it home and put it in landfill.

And finally, please be aware of the impact of microbeads in cosmetics and related cleansing products. These will be banned in the next couple of years – see this on the RYA website – but meanwhile, if you can, please choose products free of microbeads both for home use and on board.

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