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Plastic oceans -

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In our throw away world a plastic bag outlives it's usefulness after around fifteen minutes. A
plastic bottle might last a little longer, party balloons a whole occasion. But the ocean likes to
hang onto these discarded treasures for decades, even centuries giving many other consumers a taste
for plastic.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Open it up and have a quick look.

NARRATION

This is a dead flesh footed shearwater. What you're about to see may make you feel sick to the
stomach. But if you care about your own health and you like the odd bit of seafood this is
essential viewing.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Oh look at that.

Anja Taylor

Oh my God!

Man

Bloody hell! Oh you're kidding.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

I am not.

NARRATION

A hundred and seventy-five pieces of plastic, including bottle tops, balloon ties and a doll's arm.

Anja Taylor

These are all of the pieces of plastic taken from that bird's stomach three days ago. It represents
about five to eight percent of the bird's body weight. That's the equivalent of me carrying around
three to five kilograms of plastic in my stomach.

NARRATION

What makes this even more disturbing is where it's occurring, the beautiful and seemingly pristine
Lord Howe Island. Sadly deaths like these are nothing new to local biologist, Ian Hutton.

Anja Taylor

So you have been documenting this for quite a while?

Ian Hutton

Yeah back about the year 2000 I started to notice there's little bits of plastic on the forest
floor here and began searching and then I started to find skeletons of birds, chicks, look here's
one over here in the forest. So this is the sort of thing that we do find here in ...

Anja Taylor

Oh my goodness.

Ian Hutton

... in May and June after the chicks have been either fledged or perished like this one. So that's
a chick, we can see the down on it, so it is a chick.

Anja Taylor

So these are all of the bits of plastic that it's swallowed?

Ian Hutton

That's right.

Anja Taylor

Is this something that you find often?

Ian Hutton

Well walking through the forest I find carcass after carcass just like this.

NARRATION

These plastic delicacies are fed to shearwater chicks by their parents who mistake floating rubbish
for fish.

Ian Hutton

We have this year flushed the stomachs of about fifty chicks and each one of those did have some
plastic, some large amounts.

NARRATION

Many chicks don't make it to adulthood. It's hardly a surprise that the local shearwaters are in
rapid population decline. But this is not a story about a bird species in trouble, nor is it the
story of some littering Lord Howe locals. What we're seeing here is a world problem so severe it's
hard to fathom.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Our fishing nets are no longer made from hemp and from natural fibres. I mean we drive in plastic,
we talk on plastic, we sit on plastic chairs. We, we package our food in it, you can go on an
airplane now and there might be fifteen or twenty pieces of plastic just to get you from point A to
point B.

NARRATION

It's estimated three point five million pieces of new plastic enter the world's oceans daily.
Carried on global currents they accumulate in huge circulating gyres causing countless injuries to
marine life along the way.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

It's a global issue. We're finding plastics in seabirds all around Australia. It's happening on our
own shores and with our own breeding populations around here as well. Where's it coming from,
what's the overall impact on wildlife, where's it going to? Understanding the sources and sinks of
that marine debris is a really big question still.

NARRATION

Denise is spear heading a nationwide study to tackle these questions. It's the first time marine
debris has been assessed on such a huge scale.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Yep that's perfect. So we're going to just walk up either side of the transect, we're going to look
out either side about a metre from us, okay?

Anja Taylor

Okay.

NARRATION

On this deserted island beach plastic can be found within seconds.

Anja Taylor

There's a bit. There's a big bit.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

There's a big bit here. So I'm going to pick that piece up and I'm going to actually look at it on
my size chart and I'm going to record how big that piece is there.

Anja Taylor

What is that?

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Oh that actually looks to me like the top of a, of a big jerry can.

Anja Taylor

Just big enough to fit around a bird's neck?

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Ah that's certainly correct.

NARRATION

The debris we're finding here is well travelled, sometimes covered in foreign species. Stowaways
like these tiny barnacles may survive for thousands of kilometres and cause devastation to native
species when they arrive.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

So as we go out on these beaches and we pick up rubbish on our shores, we say okay, 'This is the
debris that's come here. We can then use oceanographic models that tell us, you know, what are the
winds, what are the currents? These bits of garbage that ended up here where did they most likely
come from?

NARRATION

There's thirty-five thousand kilometres of Australian coastline to cover. To fill in information
gaps CSIRO is joining forces with Earth Watch and training up volunteers.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

We're working with school groups, teachers, citizen scientists around the country, because we
simply can't get all the information at every little beach along the way.I really think that by
teaching kids that's where we're going to start to see that change.

NARRATION

So far the survey is more than three quarters of the way around the continent. Lord Howe Island is
just one stop on the map.

Anja Taylor

It's an important survey point due to its location and its numerous species of nesting seabirds.
This one's the Providence Petrel. And he's very friendly.

NARRATION

Over two hundred and seventy species worldwide are known to be affected by marine debris, including
nearly half of all seabird species.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Well our ultimate goal is to get a priority list to understand which of the species are more and
less threatened by marine debris. And to do that we need to know you know where those birds are
foraging for example. Where those turtles are foraging or how they feed, or the size of the birds
and those sorts of things.

NARRATION

Like many people I've been aware for some time that plastic is not great for marine life. But it
wasn't until I looked closely at the tide line of Ned's Beach that the penny really dropped.

Anja Taylor

There's lot of little tiny bits.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

This is getting into what they, what they call micro plastics right. And if you look here I bet
we've got fifty or a hundred bits just in this little bit. So you can see where the waterline would
have come up. Here's little bits ...

NARRATION

Plastics don't biodegrade but over many years in the sun and elements they break down into smaller
and smaller pieces until they're so small they're hard to see.

Anja Taylor

Look on any beach in the tide line and you're likely to find hundreds of these tiny little pieces
of plastic. It starts to give you an inkling of just how much must be out there. But the real
problem with these harmless looking pieces is they can be ingested by animals right down at the
bottom of the food chain. As far down as plankton, and that's where plastics come back to meet
their maker.

NARRATION

Zoologist Doctor Dr Jennifer Lavers has spent the past five seasons working on the Lord Howe
shearwater problem and has found the severe effects of micro plastics are happening at a molecular
level.

Dr Jennifer Lavers

They have what I call the invisible toxic effect. It, it's less easy to detect but equally as
scary.

The plastic itself inherently contains a wide array of chemicals that are used during the
manufacturing and processes. When the plastic is put out into the marine environment and it floats
around in the ocean for let's say ten or forty years it really does last forever, it basically acts
like a little magnet or a sponge and it takes all the contaminates that are out there in the ocean
environment that are really diluted in the ocean water and it concentrates it up, onto the surface.

Plastic itself has up to a thousand times a higher concentration of containments on its surface
than the surrounding seawater from which it came. And when the animal, whether it's a turtle or a
seabird takes that into their body those contaminants leach out into the blood stream and is
incorporated into the tissues.

NARRATION

Jennifer Lavers collects and weighs plastic from dead birds and sends the feathers off for lab
analysis. They reveal what contaminants are in the body.

Dr Jennifer Lavers

The flesh footed shearwater on Lord Howe Island is officially the world's most heavily contaminated
seabird just from mercury alone. So the toxic threshold that's widely regarded around the world for
birds is four point three parts per million. Anything above that four point three PPM is considered
toxic to the birds. Well flesh footed shearwaters on Lord Howe Island are between one thousand and
three thousand parts per million.

NARRATION

Asides from death, mercury can cause a wide array of effects from neurological damage to
infertility. And mercury is just one of the many toxic contaminates found in and on plastic debris.

Dr Jennifer Lavers

There is now a huge range of studies that are coming out almost every month that are showing marine
species at the absolute base of the food chain are ingesting these plastics and these contaminates.

Anything really that comes out of the ocean you cannot certify that as organic any longer.

NARRATION

Its estimated fish in the North Pacific now consume up to twenty-four thousand tonnes of plastic a
year.

As one predator eats another contaminates biomagnify. This means the most vulnerable animal to the
effects of toxic plastic contamination is the one at the very top of the food chain, us.

Dr Jennifer Lavers

If you eat seafood in any fashion whatsoever the plastic pollution and corresponding contaminate
problem has relevance to you.

NARRATION

Results from the marine debris study are yet to be analysed but major sources of debris are
apparent.

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

We do know from the rubbish that we find in the modelling that we're doing that are major
population centres, that rubbish on those beaches is local. We're also seeing that say areas like
Perth and WA that a lot of our rubbish is actually blowing offshore, which means that we may be
delivering that to other places much further afield. If I can say, hey we know that where we've got
those covers over the river mouth like we do in some of the major cities, we know that that really
helps stop the rubbish from getting out there, then we can start to make management decisions at
really relevant scales.

Anja Taylor

So does anybody get a gold star? Is anyone doing it right?

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Observationally we do not find full plastic bottles or cans or glass bottles in, in South Australia
and I would likely attribute that to the, to the container deposit scheme that they have there. The
waste that's associated with the beverage industry comprises about a third and some estimates are
as high as a half of the marine debris that we find globally. So that's bottles and cans and straws
and disposal coffee cups, bring your to go cup with you.

Dr Jennifer Lavers

A lot of the solutions to the plastic problem are really simple and we can each and every one
person can make a change and that it's not just governments that need to come in and enact sweeping
changes.

NARRATION

With each one of us contributing around sixty-seven kilograms of plastic waste a year, avoiding
single use plastics can make an enormous difference to the environment and ultimately are own
wellbeing.

Dr Jennifer Lavers

Whether or not you interact with the ocean on a daily basis or you've been fortunate enough to see
an albatross come into your life, you really need to kind of think twice about where your food is
coming from and what role you and your surrounding community have played in the plastic pollution
contaminate problem.

Topics: Environment

Reporter: Anja Taylor

Producer: Anja Taylor

Researcher: Roslyn Lawrence

Camera: Kevin May,

Julian Scott

Ian Hutton

Sound: Stephen Ravich

Editor: Danielle Akayan

Related Info

CSIRO National Marine Debris Survey

Rising plastic menace choking sealife - ABC Science

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YOUR COMMENTS

>> Add a Comment E Lamb - 07 Sep 2012 9:16:40am

Thankyou for bringing this crucial issue to public attention.

It is now vital we and our policy makers take action to address this horrendous problem.

Our natural inheritance (wildlife and environment) is our most precious asset. Without it, we have
nothing.

>> Reply

David R Allen - 07 Sep 2012 8:48:45am

I cried. We may be the most intelligence species that has ever lived but we are also the only
species that knowingly destroys the environment that keeps us a live. Intelligent or stupid.

>> Reply

Tony OHara - 07 Sep 2012 8:48:20am

Watching the Catalyst report "Plastic Oceans" was a most distressing viewing experience. I am not a
scientist, the research and facts presented about the bird life around Lord Howe Island once again
gave a sense of the worldwide degradation of our oceans from the plastic virus. I have visited Lord
Howe only once in the early to mid 90's and the memories I have of that pristine jewel in the
Pacific remained until last evening.Being guilty of Living Room, Lounge Apathy I cannot continue to
sit back and ignore this threat to our environment.Its Time to take action. There is no denying the
science and graphics presented illustrating the catastrophic threat to the food chain. I am not a
social media user but I will be exploring the use of this medium to raise awarness

>> Reply

Dianna Cohen - 07 Sep 2012 7:39:04am

If 70-90% of the Marine debris we are finding in the Ocean is plastic, then why don't we call it
what it is?

It is Plastic pollution and this is a global plastic pollution crisis.

>> Reply

Dianna Cohen - 07 Sep 2012 2:39:48am

If 70-79 % of the marine debris that we are finding in the Ocean is plastic, then why don't we can
it what it is?

It is Plastic Pollution and this is a Global plastic pollution crisis.

>> Reply

Dianna Cohen - 07 Sep 2012 2:38:44am

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses
working together to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals and the
environment.

With its work, Plastic Pollution seeks to put plastic pollution at the forefront of global social,
environmental and political discourse.

>> Reply

Anita Kelly - 06 Sep 2012 11:25:36pm

I began collecting marine debris 21 yrs ago - 10yrs on the WA Sth coast, 6 in Fremantle and the
last 5 in The Bunbury/Capel region of the SW. In the single month of August 2011 a community
project I have established collected over 5,000 items from 6.5 ks of shoreline. The same area was
stripped of debris from June to Oct of the same year. The greatest land based sources are
recreational fishing litter and industrial litter. Other sources vary from the Indian Ocean gyre,
the Leewin current flow and regional water based fishing and recreational activities. Very grateful
to have Catalyst reinforcing this important message to our communities.

>> Reply

Peter Way - 06 Sep 2012 9:49:50pm

Congratulations to the Catalyst team for presenting this story - as horrific as it is. It should be
compulsory viewing in our schools given our kids may have the best influence in stopping the
indiscriminate use and dumping of plastics into our oceans.

Well Done.