Plas­tic chokes life of the sea

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HELEN BAM­FORD

AMER­I­CAN pro-surfer Mary Os­borne has trav­elled to some of the most ex­otic beaches on earth – and has seen pol­lu­tion on al­most ev­ery one of them.

One of the crew of the Sea Dragon, which docked in Cape Town this week in the first trans-At­lantic plas­tic-re­search voy­age in the south­ern hemi­sphere, Os­borne said she was shocked by the amount of plas­tic they found in the ocean, of­ten in the mid­dle of nowhere.

These pol­lu­tants are be­ing ab­sorbed by ma­rine life and are en­ter­ing the food chain, ul­ti­mately end­ing up on peo­ple’s din­ner plates.

She was speak­ing at the Two Oceans Aquar­ium yes­ter­day along with co-founders of the non-profit 5 Gyres In­sti­tute, Anna Cum­mins and Dr Mar­cus Erik­sen, who talked about the find­ings of their 31-day re­search voy­age in which they sailed nearly 4 000 miles across the ocean.

Ev­ery 60 miles they col­lected sam­ples us­ing a de­vice used to skim the ocean’s sur­face.

Erik­sen said ev­ery one of the sam­ples was full of “plas­tic con­fetti”. They also came across dead seabirds with cig­a­rette lighters in­side them, bot­tle tops, plas­tic bot­tles, crates and fish­ing de­bris.

He said plas­tic par­ti­cles were even found in fish they caught.

Ma­rine an­i­mals were ab­sorb­ing pes­ti­cides and oil which stuck to plas­tic par­ti­cles like a sponge.

These pol­lu­tants can cause can­cer and have other neg­a­tive im­pacts on peo­ples’ im­mune sys­tems.

Erik­sen said they were seek­ing an­swers to three ques­tions.

“How much plas­tic is out there? What is the fate of this plas­tic? And what is the im­pact on ma­rine life and ul­ti­mately on our bod­ies?”

The 13-strong crew of the Sea Dragon in­cluded film-mak­ers, sci­en­tists, jour­nal­ists and con­ser­va­tion­ists.

Also on board was PhD stu­dent Chelsea Rochman who is do­ing re­search into whether hu­mans are be­ing harmed by eat­ing fish that have in­gested plas­tic de­bris con­tam­i­nated with pol­lu­tants such as DDT.

Cum­mins said that in the 1950s plas­tic was sold as a new won­der ma­te­rial that was cheap, durable and could sim­ply be thrown away. “But there was no long-term plan of what would be­come of this ma­te­rial meant to last for­ever in ourthrow-away cul­ture.”

Pho­to­graphs show on­cepris­tine beaches in Hawaii and Ber­muda drown­ing in plas­tic.

Erik­sen said con­sumers could make a huge dif­fer­ence.

“Stop buy­ing plas­tic bot­tles and bags, take your own cof­fee cup and even uten­sils if you eat out, and put re­spon­si­bil­ity into the hands of man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

Cape Town artist Simon MAX Ban­nis­ter’s ex­hi­bi­tion Plastikos which aims to raise aware­ness about pol­lu­tion and its im­pact on the oceans is also on at the aquar­ium un­til April.

Ban­nis­ter’s strik­ing works are made from re­claimed poly­eth­yl­ene plas­tic which he col­lected by hand from the shore­lines, road­sides and land­fills of South Africa.

You can meet the crew and go on board the Sea Dragon to­day from 2pm un­til 8pm. It is berthed in the yacht ma­rina next to the aquar­ium.

helen.bam­ford@inl.co.za

PIC­TURES: NEIL BAYNES

OCEAN WAR­RIORS: Co-founders of the non-profit 5 Gyres In­sti­tute, Dr Mar­cus Erik­sen and Anna Cum­mins, next to their yacht the Sea Dragon. They have been col­lect­ing sam­ples from the ocean to re­search plas­tic pol­lu­tion lev­els.

SIN­IS­TER: Part of Cape Town artist Simon MAX Ban­nis­ter’s ex­hi­bi­tion which has been made from re­claimed poly­eth­yl­ene plas­tic which he col­lected from the shore­lines, road­sides and land­fills of South Africa.

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