Signs of the past... and the present
A signboard that traces the deadly journey of a plastic wrapper leaving behind it a trail of death and disease.
The sign at Sydney's fascinating Aquarium reads:
It doesn't have teeth. It doesn't have tentacles. And it can't sting. It's far more dangerous than that. It's plastic rubbish. To understand how destructive it is, let's go back to the start.
About 12 kilometres from the coast of NSW, a driver throws a plastic wrapper out of his car.
Assisted by heavy rain, the wrapper is swept into a storm drain. From there, it is flushed into the Pacific Ocean. Plastic doesn't degrade easily, so it can float great distances.
It finds its first victim. An albatross mistakes the wrapper for food and chokes to death. (A recent study found that 90 per cent of albatross chicks from one breeding colony had plastic in their gullets.)
The albatross's dead body decays and releases the plastic back into the ocean to continue its deadly cycle.
It finds its second victim. Once again, the plastic wrapper is mistaken for food. This time it claims a seal pup. In a way it was lucky, seals are inquisitive creatures and sometime get their mouths muzzled while playing with six pack rings resulting in a slow torturous death by starvation.
The seal's body decomposes. Once again the wrapper is free.
It claims a third victim. To a marine turtle the wrapper looks just like a jellyfish, a favourite food. The turtle floundered about, suffocating for its last remaining minutes.
After one year
The rubbish washes up in Port Douglas. Luckily a young boy picks it up on Clean Up Australia Day. Had it not been found, the plastic wrapper could have survived another 18 years. Other rubbish lasts even longer. Film canisters take 50 years to degrade and plastic bottles can go on indefinitely.
Little wonder that plastic has been the most common type of rubbish collected for the last four years.
Eighty per cent of the ocean debris starts off as roadside litter.
Maybe one day, when we have sufficient such places to visit, we too will have stories like these to tell the visitor, either to inform him or her or to make an appeal.
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