Tuesday 18 June 2019

We all need to seriously address our use of plastic

Plastic pollution in the sea is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time
Plastic pollution in the sea is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

Imagine a Leatherback Turtle swimming in the sea off the coast of Ireland. The species is the largest of all living turtles and is differentiated from other modern sea turtles by its lack of a bony shell; instead, its back is covered by leathery skin, hence its name.

These turtles come here from the Caribbean. In the past, it was believed that the animals that turned up here were vagrants; individuals that were lost, carried far from their home range by the Gulf Stream. It is now known that they are annual migrants that come to our shores to hunt the jellyfish that are plentiful here during the summer months.

Once they have gorged themselves on the sea's summer bounty in our temperate region, females make the long trek back home to lay under cover of darkness on a handful of traditional tropical nesting beaches in the Caribbean, South America and Gabon in Central Africa.

Very little is known of the species' lifespan. Experts on sea turtles reckon their life expectancy probably lies somewhere in the range 30-100 years. It is therefore possible that one individual Leatherback Turtle may make the annual visit to our coastal waters many times during its lifetime.

Now imagine, if you will, a plastic bag floating in the sea. The bag is inclined to sink to the sea bed, but it has a bit of air trapped in it, so it stays afloat, bobbing gently along in midwater. Its handles hang down like the tentacles of a jellyfish.

An unsuspecting Leatherback Turtle mistakes the plastic bag for a jellyfish, grabs it in its mouth and attempts to swallow it. The bag gets stuck in its throat and being an air-breathing animal, it chokes to death. The animal's remains get washed up on the shore, the offending plastic bag protruding from its lifeless mouth.

Today, 5th June, is World Environment Day, the United Nation's principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our shared global environment.

Each year, World Environment Day has a new theme that focuses attention on a particularly pressing environmental concern. The theme for 2018 is beating plastic pollution, one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.

On this special day we are all encouraged to reflect on our use of plastic and what each of us can do to contribute to reducing pollution and to saving the very many creatures, like the Leatherback Turtle, that depend on clean seas.

Wicklow People