From endangered freshwater dolphins drowned by discarded fishing nets to elephants foraging through garbage, migratory species are among the most vulnerable to plastic pollution, a UN report on the Asia-Pacific region said Tuesday, calling for more action to reduce waste.
Plastic particles have infiltrated even the most remote and seemingly pristine regions of the planet, with tiny fragments discovered in fish in the deepest reaches of the ocean and the seepage of Arctic sea ice.
The UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Wildlife (CMS) article focused on the effects of plastic on freshwater species in rivers and on terrestrial animals and birds, which researchers said were often overlooked as victims of the growing humanity’s waste crisis.
It said that because these creatures encounter different environments — including industrialized and polluted areas — they are likely at risk for higher exposure to plastics and associated contaminants.
Researchers quoted estimates that 80 percent of the plastic that ends up in the oceans comes from land — with rivers thought to play a key role in discharging debris to the sea.
The report comes just days before a major summit of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which will include a motion calling for an end to marine plastic pollution by 2030.
“Actions to address this global problem have lagged far behind what is needed,” said CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel.
“The focus so far has been on cleaning up our oceans, but that is already too late in the process. We need to focus upstream on solutions and prevention of plastic pollution.”
– ‘Additional tension’ –
The UN report highlights two regions – the Ganges and Mekong river basins – which together cause an estimated 200,000 tons of plastic pollution in the Indian and Pacific Oceans each year.
Discarded fishing gear proved to be a major threat.
Dolphins can become entangled and trapped underwater by old nets, posing a particular risk to endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and Ganges river dolphins.
The report also said that migratory seabirds, such as black-footed albatrosses and Laysan albatross, may not be able to distinguish plastic from prey when flying over the ocean and may accidentally eat floating debris.
This means the plastic can build up in their guts or be passed on to their chicks when they spit out food in front of them, it said.
On land, Asian elephants had also been sighted foraging on garbage dumps in Sri Lanka and eating plastic in Thailand, the report said.
The report highlighted that species in Asia-Pacific face a host of threats, including habitat loss, overfishing, industrial pollution and climate change.
“Even if plastic pollution is not the most important of these stressors, it can add an extra stress to the already vulnerable populations,” it said.
It called for strategies to prevent plastic from being dumped into the environment, to reduce waste through better design and recycling, and for increased efforts to understand the effects of this pollution on migratory species.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)