The image is so gory that you would have a hard time believing the maimed creature was once a beautiful, magnificent, and thriving turtle. No one attacked him, gouged his eyes out or ripped his jaw apart – except for the person who dumped that plastic fishing line with the strong metal hook in the ocean.
“My dive buddy came to me in tears talking about a poor turtle that was already long dead, tangled in fishing line. She didn’t have time to remove the line so she told me where it was and I went back. I didn’t want any scavengers to also become entangled. I took my camera because images like this can become warnings for the future. We don’t want any other turtles, or any creatures, to become doomed to the same unfortunate fate: drowned and wasted thanks to our negligence.”
While Shane’s photo stood out from the rest of the entries, thousands of other photographers across 78 countries participated in the contest. Many others had pretty stark photos as well, such as this saddening image of an angler fish caught in an abandoned net and a manta ray feeding on plastic debris, both captured in one shot.
Shane’s photo: A not-so-subtle reminder of the horrifying reality of plastic pollution
At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. These items could be anything from micro pieces and industrial debris to household items and commercial plastics, such as straws, shopping bags, and coffee cups. An estimated 640,000 tons, 8% of the total figure come from abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, according to the UN .
Plastic infestation of the ocean is one of the major problems causing a steep decline in populations of several aquatic species, some of which have not been discovered or classified yet. Fish, seabirds, sea turtles, seals, whales, and other marine animals can get entangled by plastic materials, which often leads to death by suffocation, starvation or drowning. The most common cause of marine mortality in the depths of the ocean is the ingestion of plastic debris by the animals. It’s not uncommon to find plastic materials in the guts of fish, crabs, and other seafood.
Plastic is turning the ocean into a minefield. Seabirds are some of the worst victims since they are natural peckers. Plastics items would often wash up on the shores or water surface to be eaten by pecking birds. An estimated one million seabirds are killed from plastic ingestion every year.
In April 2019, a 26-foot-long pregnant whale washed up on the shores of Sardinia with 48 pounds of plastic found in her belly . These items included fishing lines, shopping bags, detergent packaging, coffee cups, plastic plates and lots more. Earlier that year in March, another whale washed up in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic, including rice sacks in its belly.
Impacts on environment, health, and economy
Plastics in the ocean are not only suffocating and harming aquatic wildlife. It’s indirectly posing a serious health hazard to humans since micro-plastic particles invisible to the naked eyes are embedded in some of the seafood we eat . Some plastic materials are highly carcinogenic and have been found in salt, beer, tap water and lots of materials humans directly ingest.
Plastic materials are major contributors to global warming. These items are non-biodegradable and may take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose. During this time, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby increasing carbon emissions.
Tourism is also affected by this plastic infestation. The aesthetic value of the environment is greatly reduced when it’s littered with unsightly plastics. Economies dependent on tourism may be severely affected by plastic waste accumulation in the ocean and landfills.
Let’s face it. Despite several conservation efforts by governments and non-profits to clean up the oceans, the plastic situation is not getting any better. A new study found that the rate at which sea turtles get entangled and suffocated by plastics increased 10-fold between 2010 and 2016. 55% of the entanglements were caused by fishing gear, 10% were caused by plastic bags and the rest were caused by other plastic items floating in the sea .
- Reduce: Start a chart. Track how much plastic you use and reduce your waste.
- Reuse: Bring your own reusable shopping bags, coffee cups water bottles and avoid single-use plastic items.
- Refuse: Refuse straws, coffee cups, and wine cups. There has to be another alternative at that point, or you could just carry your own ceramic mug around.
- Remove: Wherever you go, make it a habit to pick up plastic waste and toss in the nearest recycle bin. People may think you’re crazy, but Mother Earth appreciates your service.
- Recycle: Always toss your plastic trash in the recycle bin and return single-use items to be recycled by stores
- Rally: Start a movement wherever you are, no matter how small. A band of peaceful protesters to make a case against single-use plastics, a neighborhood plastic watch, an online webinar or a sponsored signpost in your street – your efforts are never too little.
- Holy Secon. A gut-wrenching photo of a dead turtle stuck in fishing line puts the plastic problem in stark relief. The image won a prestigious award. Business Insider. https://www.pulse.com.gh/bi/tech/a-gut-wrenching-photo-of-a-dead-turtle-stuck-in-fishing-line-puts-the-plastic-problem/t8hy6wd. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- 1st Place Conservation Ocean Art 2019 Shane Gross. Underwater Photography. https://www.uwphotographyguide.com/oa19-1st-conservation. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Mcfadyen and Huntington. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear. Food and Agriculture Organization. http://www.fao.org/3/i0620e/i0620e00.htm. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Aylin Woodward. A pregnant sperm whale was found dead with nearly 50 pounds of plastic in its belly — the second such death in the past month. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/wwf-sounds-alarm-after-48-lbs-of-plastic-found-in-dead-whale-2019-4?IR=T. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Susan Smillie. From sea to plate: how plastic got into our fish. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/14/sea-to-plate-plastic-got-into-fish. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Aylin Woodward. Scientists have a new way to estimate how often ocean animals get tangled in plastic — and it could explain why so many whales are washing up dead. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/amount-of-plastic-in-the-atlantic-has-gone-up-in-the-last-60-years-2019-4?IR=T. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- WHAT YOU CAN DO TO END PLASTIC POLLUTION. Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org/what-you-can-do-to-end-plastic-pollution/. Retrieved 12-02-2020
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