The sad realities of how wildlife must respond to, or die from, the environmental challenges of plastic

A video surfaced on social media a few days ago. Although it was published a year-and-a-half ago, it was still disturbing to see the sheer amount of rubbish – mostly comprising various forms of plastic – polluting our waters.

Ironically, “[t]he need to preserve scarce natural resources made the production of synthetic alternatives a priority” roughly a century ago, according to Science History. In fact, production increased by 300 percent during World War II and has continued even after the war.

Plastic was a God-send to manufacturers and people. Not only did it become the mainstay of modern packaging, it made life easier. Take diapers, for example. In the not-too-distant past, mothers used cloth diapers, which they would washed when soiled to be used again. The invention of disposable diapers was convenient for mothers; however, it is estimated that a disposable diaper would take 550 years to completely decompose in a landfill, according to Bio Mass Packaging. (Mama Natural has a good article on the benefits of cloth diapering.)

While plastic was intended to protect the environment and make life more efficient, productive, and easier, it created another huge problem. Unlike paper, which takes about a month to decompose, plastic doesn’t break down. It can remain in our environment forever. As a result, it is wreaking havoc on our ecosystems, primarily our marine ecosystems.

Even though most know this to be true, this video taken in the Caribbean Sea still shocks the conscience. The amount of man-made waste is so dense that it is pitch black underneath it. There are a host of similar videos readily accessible on social media sites that illustrate that what you see in this video is not unique. Our waters and lands are inundated with man-made materials that do not break down. The problem is real. The problem is serious. Our planet is being strangled to death.

The primary concern for animal-lovers is how all of this garbage is affecting the animals that inhabit the same planet on which all of this waste is being manufactured, used, and disposed.

Some animals try to adapt, like the swan in this video. Posted in 2012, you see a mama swan building her nest out of garbage at an Amsterdam canal. Sadly, this is the world humans have created for the animals that share this planet with us.

Video description: A swan family built their nest of waste at one of Amsterdam’s canals. The garbage has been thrown in the canals by humans. Now these swans “recycled” the waste and built their nest of it and might raise 6 new chicks very soon, since I counted 6 eggs. But it is also very sad to see what we human’s are doing with our garbage and that these swans became a tourist attraction in Amsterdam. (AWD © 2012)

Animals that can’t adapt will perish — and have perished — due to the onslaught of indestructible garbage. These unnatural materials now comprise a large part of their environment. They either adapt, or they die.

A 26-foot sperm whale washed ashore in the northern part of Sardinia, Italy, in late March of 2019, according to AP News. To determine what caused the whales death, an examination was performed. In addition to a fetus who died as a result of the mother’s death, scientists found 48.5 pounds of plastic in the mother’s stomach. Dr. Cinzia Centelegghe, a biologist with the University of Padova, told the Turin daily La Stampa that “It is the first time we have been confronted with an animal with such a huge quantity of garbage.”

In this photo taken on Friday, March 29, 2019 and provided by SEAME Sardinia Onlus…. The World Wildlife Foundation is sounding the alarm over plastics in the Mediterranean Sea after an 8-meter-long sperm whale was found dead off Sardinia with … 48.5 pounds … of plastic found in its belly. [WWF] said … that the garbage recovered in the sperm whale’s stomach included a corrugated tube for electrical works, plastic plates, shopping bags, tangled fishing lines and a washing detergent package with the brand and bar code still legible. (SEAME Sardinia Onlus via AP) (AP News)

National Geographic reported that plastic is now being ingested by marine creatures that inhabit “the deepest trenches of the sea….”

A British research team captured amphipods, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that scavenge on the seabed, from six of the world’s deepest ocean trenches and took them back to their lab. There, they discovered that more than 80 percent of the amphipods had plastic fibers and particles in their digestive systems, known as the hindgut. The deeper the trench, the more fibers they found.

Gibbens, Sarah and Parker, Laura (2019, February). Creatures in the deepest trenches of the sea are eating plastic. Retrieved from here .

CNN just reported this morning that 187 countries entered into a pact in which each country agreed to “control the movement of plastic waste between national borders, in an effort to curb the world’s plastic crisis….” Unfortunately, the United States did not partake in this UN agreement, even though it is the second largest producer of plastic in the world; China being the first largest producer, according to Our World in Data.

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