Massive plea to public to 'shun festive plastic' this Christmas
Plastics polluting Irish waters is the subject of a renewed warning from Coastwatch Ireland.
The growing threat of plastics in the environment has brought calls for curbs on the use of all plastics this Christmas.
While plastic bottles were among the most common plastic waste found on Irish shorelines in recent decades, the growing use of micro-plastics and polystyrene beads is posing a growing threat to sea creatures and birds, said Karin Dubsky, director of the Coastwatch environmental group.
Micro-plastics are being detected in bigger amounts by Coastwatch volunteers during clean-ups on Irish shorelines, she said.
"These micro-plastics are far more worrying as you can't clean up this 'micro litter'," she added. "Just look closely at the tideline among seaweeds to see the micro-litter load swept up by the tide."
Micro-plastics are defined as being less than 5mm in size and there are countless trillions of them in the world's waters.
Together with 'micro beads' - a form of plastic used in several industries, including cosmetics, where they are used in exfoliating products - they are ingested by sea creatures that form part of the food chain.
"Micro beads in cleaning and beauty products are bite-size for filter feeders like mussels and oysters," said Dubsky.
"Our oceans are now full of plastics. Lost pots, plastic nets, ropes and plastic string are heaping up in the underwater landscapes.
"These can cause creatures to get trapped and others come to help or forage and they get trapped.
"Plastic bags and balloons are a particular choke threat to large mammals and sea turtles which may be mistaking them for jellyfish."
Large polystyrene objects such as fish boxes break down into individual polystyrene beads, which are picked up by foraging birds.
Under-nourished dead birds found on the Dutch coast were full of polystyrene, Dubsky said.
Some materials now being used to prevent coastal erosion are also giving cause for serious concern, she added.
Researchers have warned that the amount of plastic ending up in the ocean is set to treble in the space of a decade if action is not taken to curb the problem.
The final episode of David Attenborough's Blue Planet II documentary series for the BBC depicted albatrosses unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic.
Dubsky said another consumer blind spot concerned the use of wet wipes in the bathroom. These can contain plastics or treated cloth that congeal in sewers with other materials to form balls or ropes that cause sewage treatment plants to break down, leading to pollution.
She said people should be encouraged to use reusable metal cutlery at their Christmas parties this year. And she also hopes polystyrene snowmen will become extinct.
New European Union regulations about single-use plastics are to be welcomed, Dubsky added.