National Marine Week is actually run over several weeks, from 25th July to 9th August in 2020, to raise awareness of key issues threatening Marine Life today. One of the key focuses is on plastic pollution and waste entering our oceans and killing sea creatures. The charity WWF states that 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into our ocean each year, killing wildlife and you can sign their petition to stop plastic being dumped into our oceans here.
This co-insides with the launching of our NEW Ocean Charity Straws which highlights 8 of the top ocean creatures affected by marine plastic pollution today. The idea behind the bamboo straws was to showcase images of some of the sea creatures most devastated by marine plastic pollution, to promote a natural, re-usable and biodegradable alternative to plastic straws and to support a charity working hard to reduce and remove plastic from entering our oceans. Each pack of straws donates 50% profits to our partner charity WasteAid, who are a team of waste management professionals working with communities in low-income countries to set up projects to address the root cause of poverty, climate change and marine plastic pollution. WasteAid shares waste management knowledge and skills to train people to become self-employed recycling entrepreneurs in their communities.
As research in ongoing, we do not know the full extent of devastation marine plastic pollution is having on our ocean wildlife, but we wanted to share an insight as to why we chose to highlight our chosen 8 creatures that feature on our new straws.
We have talked quite a bit about Hermit Crabs recently, and in the past, they are an iconic crustacean encountered across the world and a firm favourite of ours. Hermit crabs don’t form their own shells, instead using old snail shells to protect themselves from predatory fish like cod, meaning an array of colours, shapes and sizes of shells adorn them. As the crab grows and a shell becomes too small, they seek out a roomier shell to take possession of, but recently they have been found to use plastic bottle caps and laundry detergent caps, among other items, as shell replacements. These replacements don’t protect the crabs properly, leaving them more exposed to predation. Recent studies have also shown that microplastics in the crab’s environment makes them more likely to seek out a plastic alternative for a shell replacement. Plastic waste has also killed more than half a million hermit crabs studied on two remote tropical islands, where the crabs had crawled into plastic containers and bottles, but were unable to climb back out, eventually dying. These crabs are very important scavengers in the eco-system cleaning up debris, aerating and fertilising soil, dispersing seeds and are a food source for many fish.
We’ve all seen the video where a plastic straw is pulled from the nose of a turtle, it was horrifying and upsetting, and started a global wake-up call to how bad plastic pollution had become in our oceans. Since then we have seen numerous clips from netting to plastic forks attached to turtles suffering in the ocean. We have also witnessed the thousands of turtles that have died from consuming plastic by mistake, often confusing plastic bags for their favourite jellyfish food. The WWF states that 1 in every 2 marine turtles has now eaten plastic! The plastic consumed is trapped in the turtles stomach and can stop food from being consumed, it can also produce gas which makes the turtle float and unable to feed properly, and making them easy targets for prey. Turtle conservation is now of vital importance, to educate people and protect the vulnerable turtles for the future.
Dolphins, whales and fish:
Plastic pollution has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species according to Marine conservation society’s website, including whales, dolphins, fish and sharks. And over 1 million marine animals are killed every year because of plastic debris according to sea turtle conservation. All these creatures are vital to the eco-system and balance in our oceans, not to mention our tourism and a popular food source. Statistics pulled by the ocean wealth organisation shows that coral reefs tourism alone is worth $36 billion a year and supports millions of jobs. If you’ve ever snorkelled on holiday to look at the fish, cage dived with sharks, gone dolphin and whale spotting then we need, now more than ever, to protect them from plastic pollution harm.
Sharks and Rays:
Sharks and Rays are vital to the ocean eco-system, yet they are one of the most endangered fish species currently in the oceans and according to project aware nearly ¼ are classified as threatened or extinct, with many populations down by over 80 percent. Sharks are susceptible to consuming plastic, overfishing and drowning when caught tangled in fishing lines/nets often left behind by the industry. We chose the basking shark and manta ray as images on our straws for their unique and recognisable look. Basking sharks are another creature close to our hearts and our home, as they frequent the Scottish waters in summer. These gentile giants are being researched by basking shark Scotland to discover the impact of plastic, and particularly microplastics in their environment and diet.
Fish and Seahorse:
The image of the seahorse clinging to the pink plastic cotton bud taken by Justin Hoffman, went viral and eventually helped win an award in 2017 for wildlife photographer of the year. That picture will stay with us for some time, and I have never bought a plastic cotton bud since. The truth is many people did not and still don’t think it is their problem, but as fish and shellfish have been found to contain plastic fragments which are making their way to your dinner plate, this will surely change!