Earlier this year we told you the story of the Ugly Journey of our Trash, how our everyday litter travels from land to sea. As divers, we know too well how it endangers marine ecosystems and wildlife along the way but it’s easy to forget that even small everyday life items can pose a serious risk to marine creatures such as sea turtles.
Take a plastic fork – something we see as harmless and definitely not an item that we would initially associate with a sea turtle. But for this poor Olive Ridley, a fork could have been responsible for its death if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of Nathan Robinson – a turtle researcher who came across the Olive Ridley turtle on a beach in Costa Rica. Nathan noticed the turtle had something lodged in its nostril. It turned out to be a 5 inch plastic fork. Luckily Nathan, along with biologists Brett Butler and Collin Hertz, were on hand and able to safely remove the fork from the Olive Ridley’s nostril.
Watching the video, I was distraught for the poor turtle – a single-use plastic fork causing it so much distress and threatening its life – an item that we can all easily avoid using, an item that definitely does not belong in the ocean. Whilst saddened that human waste was responsible for the unnecessary harm to this majestic sea creature, I was inspired and heart warmed by Nathan, Brett and Collin’s kindness - this Olive Ridley was one of the lucky ones, saved and released safely back into its natural home.
Not all marine animals are so lucky – thousands fall victim to the perils of marine debris every year. All seven species of sea turtle, over half of marine mammal species and almost two thirds of seabird species have ingested or become entangled in marine debris. But we have the power to take a stand and fight back against the scourge of marine debris.
As divers, we should feel empowered – we have unique skills to become citizen scientists and participate in Dive Against Debris surveys, yielding critical data about the types and quantities of marine debris items found in underwater habitats across the globe.
This year alone, divers have hauled up over seventy thousand items of debris, almost 60% of which were plastic items. This data is essential to build quantitative evidence which, over time, can be used to inform policy change and work toward solutions that will stop debris at the source, preventing it from entering the ocean in the first place.
As a diver, underwater encounters of marine debris, small and large, are unfortunately a common occurrence – it is a sad reality but by no means are we defeated. Every day, I am inspired by people’s good will and desire to take action to protect the marine environment. As we close out the year and enjoy the festive season with our friends and family, remember the Ugly Journey of our Trash and be conscious of your plastic footprint. Avoid using single-use plastic items such as straws, plates and cutlery and check out these ideas for reducing your holiday waste.
Plastic doesn’t belong in the ocean. Join the fight against marine debris by becoming a Debris Activist to help stop the Ugly Journey of our Trash and protect sea turtles and other marine creatures from being hurt or killed by our everyday life litter.
Photo and video courtesy of Nathan Robinson and The Leatherback Trust