It’s official – Britain’s national treasure David Attenborough has returned to our TV screens triumphantly with Blue Planet II. The second series of the marine documentary continues to educate mortals worldwide about life under the sea, and here at Persist, we couldn’t be more excited to get our geek on. But despite the incredible visuals, soothing narration and spellbinding scenes, we can’t help but linger on the real issue that lies beneath the deep blue.
Plastic, as Attenborough describes it, is a man-made material designed to be “hardwearing, rot proof and indestructible”. Which is great news for protecting your electronics, keeping food fresh and packaging your favourite beauty products. But it’s not so great news for the ocean. It’s estimated that humans dump eight million(!) tonnes of it into its depths each year. It is wreaking havoc in the maritime environment – the welfare of sea creatures is endangered as they entangle themselves in plastic, either escaping with sustainable injuries or suffering a painful death.
In ‘Episode Four’ of the series, we witness one horrifying effect that plastic pollution is having on the ocean. Millions of viewers sobbed as a pod of short-finned pilot whales mourned the loss of their youngest calf. But the calf’s fate wasn’t due to hungry predators or the cruel ways of ocean life. In fact, Attenborough revealed that the creature’s premature death was likely caused by its mother’s contaminated milk. Far from marine disease or genetic mutations, industrial chemicals and plastic in the maritime environment have caused intolerably high toxicity levels. It is poisonous, and countless creatures high up the food chain are consuming these dangerous pollutants each day.
Plastic has now reached the most isolated parts of the ocean, and assistant producer of the series, Sarah Conner, recently told The Telegraph; “There would rarely be a dive where I wouldn’t find some form of plastic”. Even though the Blue Planet team collected as much waste as they could find, problems reached even their deepest dives as a study of maritime residents in Mariana Trench had plastic remnants found in their stomachs. Alarmingly, there are currently 5.3 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean alone, and only 12% of plastic items worldwide are recycled each year. Unless we stop dumping harmful waste into the deep-sea, waters will remain contaminated and destructive to maritime life for centuries to come.
But whilst there may not always be a cameraman around to free a trapped turtle from its plastic prison, there are many ways that we can look after the environment around us. Signing up to causes such as the Marine Conservation Society, WWF and the Blue Marine Foundation will not only raise awareness on marine debris, but also help aid the cleanup process through voluntary donations of time or money. Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic goods will have an enormous impact on helping to keep the oceans clean and safe for all maritime species.
As it stands, being more mindful with what we buy and consciously reducing the amount of plastic we throw in the trash are just a few minor steps we can do in order to take better care of our planet. So what are you waiting for?