The image below, is the waterline of X-Pat berthed in a marina in Queensland. The white pieces that you can see are not marine life, but pieces of polystyrene captured in the surface tension against to hull. There are over two hundred boats in this marina and they all have polystyrene sticking to them. So where did it come from?
,Well the answer is I don't know but I do have a few ideas. Polystyrene is an attractive material in the marine environment. It is light, it floats, it has great insulating properties and it's cheap. Not surprisingly then it has lots of applications.
Below is a picture taken at a fish market in China. These polystyrene boxes are used to keep fish cool and fresh. They are boxed offshore and brought ashore like this. But the boxes have one downside. They are fragile. If they get knocked, pieces break off until eventually the integrity of the box is lost and the whole thing falls apart creating thousands of particles that are almost impossible to clean up.
But these boxes are not just used in China. If you go and charter a yacht on the beautiful Great Barrier Reef and ask for the boat to be provisioned, your provisions will be supplied in these boxes. That must be introducing unnecessary risk of pollution into our marine environment.
The image below shows polystyrene fishing buoys which we commonly find on our voyages. They are often in a poor state and with continued use, simply disintegrate in the ocean. There are plenty of robust alternatives around and so why do we need to use these?
There is a growing move to ban the use of polystyrene in many areas, particularly the food trade where indications are that styrene can transfer into food and drink at temperatures greater than 70C, creating a human health risk. The use of these materials should also be banned in marine applications as an additional step towards limiting plastic pollution in our oceans.
Last night I went to see only the second showing of a new film entitled "Blue" at the Sydney Film Festival. This feature film by Northern Pictures examines the impact that industrial scale fishing, habitat destruction, species loss and pollution are having on our oceans.
The story is told through the experiences of Ocean Guardians (#oceanguardian) who are people that are passionate about the oceans. People like Madison Stewart who is passionate about shark conservation, Tim Silverwood, co-founder of Take 3, the beach cleanup initiative and Dr. Jennifer Lavers, a marine eco-toxicologist and seabird expert.
Written and directed by Karina Holden, Blue is a beautifully confronting film which I hope will act as a catalyst for changing attitudes to our oceans.
After the film there was a panel discussion which included the three ocean guardian's mentioned above along with Karina Holden. At the end of the panel discussion there was the opportunity for the audience to put questions to the panel. A child towards the front of the audience stood up and asked "Do you think there will still be a Great Barrier Reef when I'm adult? Because I haven't seen the reef or a turtle yet". Sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to ask the pertinent question!
What can you do to help? Here are a few suggestions:
I find mangroves a fascinating place and was interested to read recently of their ecological importance. That tangle of branches and roots provides protection for so much life. The muddy waters provide a nursery for many fish and prawns. Insects love the moist protected environment and in turn birds enjoy the protection of the mangrove trees and the wealth of food sources. Scientists have recorded more than 230 species of birds living in the mangrove environment in Australia. The mud is a rich source of nutrients for plants and aquatic life.
The mangrove environment also provides shelter from storms and rough seas and protects the banks against erosion. Indeed mangrove lined creeks are one of the best places to shelter from tropical cyclones if you happen to be aboard a boat and caught out by a storm.
It is therefore with some sadness that I read of the threat to mangroves in Australia and worldwide.
On a recent walk in Kuring Gai National Park just north of Sydney I found hundreds of meters of mangrove forest littered with plastic, comprising mainly plastic beverage bottles and polystyrene from packing cases used frequently in the fishing industry. The mangrove acts as a filter trapping this flotsam as it makes it's way to the ocean down our waterways. Washed from paths and roads this litter becomes concentrated in the mangroves in this area and is very difficult and time consuming to clean up. It is estimated that 70% of commercially caught fish have spent some time in a mangrove environment. These natural nurseries deserve to be protected from this plastic pollution. Failure to minimise this "leakage" of plastics into our oceans is leading to increasing amounts of plastics in our food chain.