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Genevieve Johnson shows an example of the types of plastic rubbish found along the shoreline and in the water.
Photo: Chris Johnson

June 28, 2001
The Deadliest Predator in the Sea
  Real Audio
  28k   64k

Log Transcript

If asked the question, ‘what is the deadliest predator in the sea?’, the response of most people would include animals that bite or sting. However, the deadliest predator in the sea does neither and is far more dangerous than any shark, sea snake, jelly or giant squid. The insidious culprit wreaking unimaginable havoc on the creatures of our oceans is plastic rubbish.

Every minute, every hour, every day, there is no ocean or waterway that is immune and every creature is a potential victim. Plastic garbage kills approximately one million sea birds and over one hundred thousand marine mammals every year. Thoughtlessly discarded by careless and ignorant people, the unwanted refuse from our modern world of consumerism and commercialism has become a deadly, drifting flotilla in our oceans. Mistaken for food, plastics are eaten by marine mammals, reptiles and birds. What refuse does not ensnare, choke, trap, drown or maim, ends up joining millions of tons of plastic litter washed up on beaches.

The greatest misconception about plastics in the oceans is that most of it comes from boats. Of course, some does, but most of it, in fact 60 - 80% of plastics come from land based sources such as beaches, overflowing garbage cans or litter thrown on the ground from the inner city to the school yard to your own suburban street. When it rains, plastics are washed into gutters and drains, eventually finding their way into creeks, streams and rivers and finally, the bays and oceans. A veritable ‘conga-line’ of floating, bobbing rubbish including plastic shopping bags, water bottles, oil and shampoo bottles, cups, beads, castaway nets and fishing line, all patiently awaiting an encounter with the next unsuspecting victim.

To appreciate the excessive killing power of plastic, lets follow a plastic wrapper on a hypothetical journey for a relatively short period of its life span.

  • Week 1 - A small plastic wrapper is tossed into an overflowing bin in a schoolyard several miles from the coast.
  • Week 2 - Heavy rains from a winter storm wash the wrapper into a drain. The plastic is flushed out into the ocean.
  • Week 3 - The wrapper finds its first victim. A Green sea turtle snatches at what looks like a jellyfish, a favourite food. Instead this lethal look alike obstructs the turtle’s digestive tract. Death is slow but sure.
  • Week 10 - The turtles decomposed body has released the plastic back into the ocean to continue its deadly spree.
  • Week 11 - An albatross spots the wrapper floating at the surface. It swoops down to claim its prize and chokes to death.
  • Week 15 - The wrapper is free again to claim another life.
  • Week 16 - This time the plastic wrapper is mistaken for food by an unsuspecting seal pup that endures a slow death by suffocation.
  • Week 21 - The wrapper is released. A pleasure boat splutters to a halt. Curses ring out as the cooling water-intake valve is clogged with plastic. The wrapper is removed and returned to the sea to continue its lethal drift.

The current patiently nudges the wrapper towards shore where it washes up on a popular tourist beach. A young school student picks up the plastic as part of his class project for World Environment Day. The plastic wrapper which would have survived at least another twenty years at sea is now safely in the bin. Imagine the damage that one wrapper can potentially cause during its lifetime.

Back out at sea, another turtle has ingested so much plastic that it unable to dive. A seabird feeds fish eggs, which are actually plastic beads to its chick. A large whale washes up dead on a beach, a post mortem exam reveals the cause of death, a plastic milk jug. A dolphin is tangled and drowns in discarded fishing net. A sea lion endures a slow painful death, the fishing line wrapped around its neck gradually tightens, cutting into flesh as the animals grows. A diving pelican has its bill clamped shut by a six-pack ring, it will die of starvation.

The bloated corpses of turtles, sharks, whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and birds escalate in number, as these animals continue to ingest and become entangled in the debris we so casually discard on a daily basis.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy lies in the knowledge that such destruction, suffering and waste continues, when it is absolutely unnecessary and easily prevented. Most plastics, such as bottles last indefinitely, they will remain on the planet long after you and I are gone. Some simple solutions include discarding plastics properly so they are not released into nature, buying fewer items packaged in plastic, when given a choice use biodegradable products and recycle. Bare in mind the future of the oceans, we can all help solve the problem of this global epidemic.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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