Trillions of plastic pieces are threatening the blue planet. DROWNING IN PLASTIC sees Liz Bonnin talks to scientists working on plastics research, the world's leading marine biologists and campaigners to discover the true dangers of plastic.
Over 200 different marine species have eaten plastic, but why? New research suggests that smell might be an important part to this; algae growing on plastic in the ocean gives off a scent, attracting them to it.
Liz first stop is 400 miles off the coast of Australia; Lord Howe Island, home to the largest colony of flesh-footed shearwaters. These seabirds alone are one indication of how bad plastic pollution has become. She joins a team of scientists and volunteers who have gathered on this island every year for the past twelve years. Leading this team is Dr. Jennifer Lavers, she believes these birds hold the key to understanding how plastic could be harming all marine life.
As part of investigating and monitoring these birds, some have their stomachs gently pumped with water; each one is seen throwing up nearly twenty to thirty pieces of plastic. The obvious knock-on effect is their chicks are ingesting plastic, too.
Governments have started to listen, and some companies are making public pledges to make all their products 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. But is this target year, too late? Many believe it is, as figures suggest that by then - the volume of plastic entering the oceans could’ve doubled. With a prediction like this, what solutions are there? Liz Bonnin meets entrepreneur, David Christian. He’s been developing an alternative, and perhaps revolutionary material to plastic; experimenting with seaweed, a natural resource that’s both edible, dissolvable in water, and could replace plastic packaging. However, a downside to seaweed farms is they may affect coastal ecosystems.
She also finds out why plastic is a threat to reefs. Vibrio, a pathogen, meaning it can cause disease, is one of the most dangerous bacteria to coral; the plastic carrying this disease touches the coral tissue and slowly kills it. Although this is a newly found threat, there’s a small drop of hope; some reefs are showing fewer signs of disease. The presence of a seagrass meadow growing in some shallow waters, is one reason for this. It’s thought this seagrass could be a factor in the health of a reef; in this case, it’s become a wall of defence, trapping the plastic, and in the process, wiping off harmful bacteria. A sign that nature is displaying a solution of its own.
In this hard-hitting documentary, viewers will see damning reminders of the problem of plastic pollution on land and in the oceans.
For instance, a seal found with an old fishing net wrapped around its neck, like a choker for a necklace. What’s more, plastic is coupled with a new threat of microplastics, many of it being invisible to the naked eye.
Human reaction has prompted an increased consideration for the environment, and probably inspired the petition here in the UK, asking the government to ban single-use plastic.
Starring: Liz Bonnin
First Broadcast: 2018
Available On: BBC iPlayer