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The Blue Planet Effect & the Plastic Problem

February 4, 2021

When the BBC’s Blue Planet II hit our screens in 2017, it was the most watched programme of the year – reaching over 14 million viewers. It proved that the nation had a huge interest in the natural world despite the distractions of the early “noughties”; the Harry Potter films, Dido at the height of fame and The Weakest Link among others. If you haven’t seen Blue Planet II yet, I highly recommend you watch it on iplayer here.

Blue Planet II showed us life under the sea in a way that we had never seen before, but it also showed how at risk this unique ecosystem is from human activity. Most notably it highlighted the plastic pollution and its very real, current threat to marine creatures.

So, why is plastic a problem?

Plastic was originally invented over 100 years ago. It was made to easily mould into different shapes; it was hard wearing and rot-proof. At the time, this was an incredible breakthrough and revolutionised the way we lived. Now, we see plastic in almost everything and the characteristics that made it so useful are now the reason that it is so problematic.

It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean – a terrifying statistic. It is thought that the human race have created over 8 billion tonnes of plastic since its invention and that the vast majority is ending up in landfill and polluting the environment

It is believed that up to nearly 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year – an incredible amount. Think what we could do with all that waste if we were able to recycle it effectively.

One of the things that struck me when watching Blue Planet II was the sheer number of shipping containers lost at sea during transit. Four shipping containers a day are thought to be lost at sea. I could barely believe this statistic and to be honest it made me quite angry. 

If the same were happening by truck or freight train, we would be doing everything we could to prevent it, such would be the financial loss and effect on our environment. Yet, as this occurs out of sight at sea and not on our doorstep, it continues to be an ongoing problem.

Blue Planet II did a fantastic job of educating the nation and drawing attention to environmental issues such as plastic pollution – a mainstream topic. The exposure the programme gave to these issues has been invaluable and has given birth to what has been called ‘The Blue Planet Effect’, which is helping real change to be made.  

Lost shipping containers however, are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pollution in our seas. Divers around the globe have reported seeing plastic pollution in all corners of the world. From plastic bottles to ghost nets and fishing gear, to microplastics and more. Plastic pollution is a widespread issue that clearly needs to be addressed.

Types of plastic pollution:

If it is plastic and disposable then it can easily end up in the ocean. Here are a few everyday items that are often found in the sea.

1) Carrier bags – we have become much better with reducing the amount of carrier bags that we use. Most people now rarely do a shop without their reusable bags and being mindful about the bags we use as part of everyday life. This is a huge step forward. 

2) Ghost nets and fishing gear – Fishing nets get old they are regularly lost or disposed of at sea. These then entangle a variety of marine life, from seals to sea birds, turtles, crustaceans and even creatures as large as whales resulting in unnecessary deaths.

3) Microplastics – there have been numerous headlines regarding marine creatures that have swallowed so much plastic that they have either died from ingestion or died from starvation caused by a blockage. Microplastics are formed when the plastic in the oceans starts to breakdown. As it was made to be hard wearing and rot resistant, it doesn’t truly biodegrade. Instead, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that end up being ingested by marine life.

4) Drinking straws – another plastic product that has made headlines since Blue Planet II aired. It is thought that in the UK alone we throw away near 4.5 million plastic straws per year. This attracted the attention of the UK population and has seen charnges in the way many high street restaurants and cafes operate, opting instead for non-plastic alternatives such as paper or metal. 

The success of the Blue Planet series since it aired has been astounding, not just in the UK but around the world.

Our oceans face many threats. From overfishing, plastic pollution, climate change, and coral bleaching. The oceans have to struggle to maintain their health and biodiversity. There is so much about our oceans that we do not know about and it would be a shame to lose it before we understand the mysteries that it holds. 

Raising awareness of plastic pollution and making it a mainstream issue that can be spoken about at home is a vital step forward to getting the majority of the population rallying against environmental issues and forcing politicians to act. Hopefully, by making people aware of this one issue, it will spark interest for more people to learn about the intricacies of the issues the planet is facing. 

Education is the first step towards creating substantial change and help our lives on this planet become more sustainable. But it is the first step of many, and change cannot come soon enough. As I said before, it is thought that by 2050 that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish – which we simply cannot allow to happen. 

Our planet, planet Earth, is our home. It is our blue planet. 71% of the Earth is water. It’s where we all began, and we owe it the decency to look after it as best we can. If we know what the problem is – and we do – then we should be doing everything we can to make changes to put it right. 

The plight of our planet is no longer a secret that politicians don’t want you to know about. Thanks to programmes like Blue Planet II, it is now a mainstream concern and ignorance is no longer a viable excuse. We cannot afford to wait any longer to change. This time is now. 

We can’t all change the world, but we can make changes to our worlds to influence each other to do our best. Get a reusable bag, say no to plastic straws, take a reusable mug to the coffee shop, buy products with recyclable packaging – small, simple things that you can start doing today to ensure a better world for tomorrow. 

For now, tune into documentaries. Make it a habit to educate yourself in issues that are affecting the planet. Join the Blue Planet Revolution and be on the right side of history.

 

This blog was originally posted on www.smallworldbigcause.com, a site by Rebecca Hansell (Junior Aquarist at Blue Reef Aquarium, Hastings). The blog focuses on the importance of, and link between, having a healthy planet, healthy body, and healthy mind. It is a way to help us all take steps towards a more fulfilling and sustainable life. Take a look and join the community today.


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