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“Unspoilt paradise” suffocating under plastic

Recent estimations from scientists suggest the number of plastic particles in the ocean now outweighs the amount of stars in the milky way. Since it was first developed six decades ago, almost 50% of the worlds plastic has been produced in the last 13 years. Now, it has penetrated the deepest parts of our oceans, and is suffocating remote islands previously described as “unspoilt paradises”.

 The Cocos(Keeling) Islands, a horseshoe chain of 26 small land masses off the coast of Australia was recently found to be littered with 238 tonnes of plastic, including 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes. These were among the identifiable elements in an estimated 414 million pieces of debris. Almost a million plastic flip flops are among the debris.

Only 600 inhabitants live on these islands.

These findings don’t include the entire mass of plastic debris across all 26 Islands, with access restricted to some of the beaches known to be pollution hotspots. Particularly worrying was the drastic amount of plastic buried up to 10cm below the surface, which equated for 93% of the overall volume. The finding helps to explain a significant gap in our understanding of plastic pollution.

"Over the decades, we know how much plastic we put out into the ocean. But when we've done some sampling to try and figure out how much is floating in the surface layers and things like that, there actually seems to be a bit of a mismatch between what we think we've put out there, and what we find," said Dr Lavers, from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.

"So there's this missing plastic where we don't actually know where it's gone. So for me, when I found out that so much of the debris on Cocos was buried, I had a little kind of a light bulb moment where I thought, perhaps this is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle.”

Whilst positive action, beach cleans run by volunteers only scrape the surface of the problem. The sheer volume of buried plastic could threaten wildlife living / nesting in beach sediments, and attempts to clear this concealed plastic would require major mechanical disturbance which might prove even more damaging to wildlife.

"We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need MILLIONS doing it IMPERFECTLY" - Anne Marie Bonneau

"It wasn't a huge surprise to me, it's simply that the surveys done up until now have looked at the surface and its obviously a lot of time and effort to dig deeper," said Dr Chris Tuckett, from the Marine Conservation Society

Dr Lavers urges people to start making conscious changes to their daily plastic use. She says she has avoided plastic in her own life for the past 10 years, and reckons it to the likes of quitting smoking

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“At first, it's hard, and you have to think about it. But then you don't think about it anymore. It's just part of your day-to-day actions. You just don't smoke anymore. I just don't use plastic anymore”

Every single time you buy anything in plastic, look at the item, be it on-the-go food in a plastic container, an item packaged in plastic, a plastic toy, etc - think “what is going to happen to this? Can it be recycled? If so, will it make it to a recycling plant? Will it go to landfill? Or will it end up in our oceans”

If you do this every time you purchase or use anything plastic, we guarantee you will start to realise the sheer amount of both long term and single use plastic we all use on a day to day basis, and in turn you will start to think differently about how you may be contributing to mass plastic pollution and ways in which you can reduce it.


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