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Marine Life & Conservation

Plastic Oceans – The Film

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Plastic Oceans has assembled a team of the world’s top scientists and leading filmmakers to produce a powerful, high-end documentary in high definition.  This will play a key role in sending out the message.

The team is headed up by producer Jo Ruxton who was involved in some epic programmes with the BBC Natural History Unit, including groundbreaking productions such as Blue Planet and Pacific Abyss.  She brings years of experience of working within the BBC Natural History Unit on wildlife documentaries to the Plastic Oceans programme.

During the filming, the team travelled to some of the most remote parts of the planet, documenting the environmental issues associated with plastic and its impact on mankind as well as some of the most spectacular animals in the world.

 

Plastic Oceans will:

  • Raise global awareness to the problems of plastic pollution
  • Highlight and promote positive solutions
  • Empower people to become part of the solution
  • Provide a chance for the audience to make a difference through social networking
  • Be the foundation for campaigns, focused on increasing the rate of change in behaviour and attitudes to plastic consumption
  • Provide an effective and entertaining educational tool.

Plastic waste anywhere is a causing us environmental as well as health problems all around the globe. Nowhere is this more so than in our seas and oceans. On land we see the effects right in front of us and usually, not always, try to manage the problems it causes. At sea, the story is very different. Hidden from view, this insidious form of human waste is having dramatic effects on the health of our planet. As divers and being at sea much of the time, if we look beyond our contents gauges, we can see this ‘plastic waste’ effect more than most.

I wrote to Jo Ruxton, the Producer of Plastic Oceans to ask of some of her experiences while making this film.

Jeff:  Hi Jo. Before getting involved in the making of this crucial film, had you any idea of the full scale of problems caused by our plastic waste?

Jo: No – I had heard talk of the so-called ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and wanted to find out more.  I managed to join a research trip out to the middle of the North Pacific Gyre in 2009, to find out just how bad the problem was, but it was nothing like I had imagined.  We were fifteen hundred miles offshore and spent a month looking for the ‘continent-sized island of plastic’ we had read about but the water was as clear as the most pristine seas I have ever seen.  It wasn’t until we dragged plankton nets across the surface that we realised just how much more insidious the problem really is.  Every trawl was full of tiny plastic pieces, and the closer we travelled to the centre of the gyre the more plastic we found.  It was plankton-sized and the scientists on board were convinced it far out-numbered any plankton that should have been there.

The worrying thing is that the size and amount of plastic that we found, confirmed that it could enter the food chain at the lowest level, whether it was direct plankton feeders, including baleen whales, manta rays or fish, but anything that feeds on plankton feeders and of course that ultimately includes humans.  Unfortunately we found the same problem in the middle of the north Atlantic, the Mediterranean, South Pacific and our scientists have confirmed that every ocean is the same.

Jeff:  Is it possible for you to single out one issue or event that has most affected you?

Jo: There were so many as we discovered the sheer extent of the plastic, it made me realise just how addicted we are and how we still consider plastic to be disposable – which is crazy because it is indestructible.  I have visited places where there are no facilities at all for disposing of plastic waste and communities that are drowning in the stuff.  But perhaps the most shocking thing I witnessed was when our scientist in Australia cut open a 90-day-old Shearwater chick and its distended stomach was packed with plastic.  Its parents had fed it with shiny objects they had seen on the sea surface and they mistook them for food.  The chick’s stomach was full and yet it had died from starvation.  When the plastic was weighed it made up 15% of its body weight, which is equivalent to our stomachs being full of 6 – 8 kg of plastic!

Jeff:  Plastic is now well embedded into the marine food chain and taking a horrible toll on the world’s wildlife. Is this reversible?

Jo:  I would like to think that we are not too late to do something about this.  The new science is telling us exactly how toxins are attracted to plastic once it reached the ocean.  These are toxins that have entered the ocean from industry, sewage, agricultural run-off, and toxic spills and they don’t particularly like water.  They stick to plastic pieces, which continue to attract them like magnets because toxins floating around in the ocean treat the plastic like vehicles they can hitch a lift on.  This allows them to travel up the food chain from the tiniest animals to the top predators and as they go on their journey, they magnify in intensity.  On top of this, once they are consumed, they leave their plastic transport and lodge in the fat layers of their new host and when we eat fish, it is those succulent fatty layers just below the skin that we love best.  The first thing we need to do is stem the tide of plastic reaching the ocean.  That is the easiest thing to address, we just need determination, infrastructure and a change of behaviour, every single person can make a difference by changing their attitude to plastic and the way we use it.

Jeff:  In terms of the way you see the use of plastic in our day to day lives, what is the most important thing we can do as consumers to minimise or even stop the continuing practice of carelessly discarding plastic into our environment?

Jo:  We need to understand that plastic is not disposable. Yes, it is convenient, but when we throw it ‘away’ we need to realise that when it comes to plastic, there is no ‘away’.  The best thing we can do is go back to the way we were before we became so addicted to disposables.  When did we become too lazy to wash up our cutlery and crockery, refill lighters, wash out flasks, carry shopping bags etc?  I am not saying all plastic is bad, it is an amazing durable, light, cheap product, but we have taken this convenience too far.

We need to redesign our products by considering the end of their useful lives, we need to reduce the amount of disposables we use and as a last resort we must at least recycle where we can and minimise how much plastic we send to landfill.  If you put aside all of the plastic you use in just one week and look at how much you consume in any 7 day period, I think it would be a real wake-up call.  Then consider where plastic comes from – it’s our precious oil reserves, if you take a one litre drinks bottle, it has taken a quarter of a litre to manufacture that bottle, in components and energy.  There can’t be many of us who haven’t noticed the increasing cost of fuel and yet here we are burying oil-products in the ground after using them for just a few minutes.  That should be a wake-up call – even for people who aren’t that interested in the environment.

Jeff:  If we managed to stop all plastic waste tomorrow, would it be too late or is irreparable damage already done?

Jo:  I don’t have the definitive answer to that question but I do know that if we carry on the way we are doing, then we will gradually poison our environment and everything that lives in it.  The toxins I mentioned before are linked to many of the diseases that are on the increase now – everything from cancer, autoimmune diseases (diabetes, arthritis, etc) and infertility, to cognitive problems and even obesity.  Many of the world’s community rely on fish as their main source of protein, so the consequences could be catastrophic if we don’t address this now.

Jeff:  I would assume that in the making of this film, you have talked with many world leaders, politicians, industrialists, celebrities. Are they listening, or is commercialism still taking full control of the way we run our lives?

Jo:  I have not talked to many yet, but I hope that the film and its message will reach them,  I can say that when I do talk to people whether it is through presentations or face-to-face discussion, the realisation dawns and I know they see just how serious this issue is but at the same time how easy it would be to make simple effective change.

Jeff: Is any one listening?

Jo:  Yes for sure, but it is hard to reach everyone, that is why we want the film to spread the word.  We humans are very influenced by what we see, what we see has much more impact than what we hear.  I know for a fact that even during the making of this film, I have changed peoples’ behaviour.  I have talked at schools and other educational institutions and at public talks, and I know it has a profound affect on how they look at their own plastic consumption.  The teachers have reported back to me, as have parents and members of other audiences.  Once they are made aware, they want to do something, and unlike climate change, acid oceans and other pressing environmental problems, this is one we can tackle on all levels.

Jeff:  As divers, what is the most important thing we can do?

Jo:  Look at how plastic affects our lives on land as well as at sea.  Talk to boat operators.  Discourage them from providing endless bottles of water on trips, bring their own re-fillable bottles.  Talk to other divers, organise beach clean-ups and underwater clean ups and publicise them.  Sort the waste to see who the main offenders are and follow up with them.  Make sure that anything collected is taken for recycling.  Never let any plastic go into the sea.  Ask dive operators where they put their waste – I have seen them dump bin liners full of trash over the side of the boat, and I’m sure it still happens.  But that is because we have grown up believing you can throw plastic ‘away’!

Jeff:  Is there any good news at the end of all this…?

Jo:  There is always hope.  Every individual can make a difference.  There is new technology to deal cleanly with plastic waste, and there are alternatives to every type of plastic packaging.  It’s all about spreading the message because people who don’t know there is a problem cannot care enough to do something about it.  Thanks for giving me a chance to have my say here!

 If you would like to know more about the ‘Plastic Oceans’ project please visit www.plasticoceans.org

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust UK about the Big Shark Pledge.

The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.

Find out more at: www.bigsharkpledge.org and www.sharktrust.org.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills

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The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.  

The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.  

Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEOUntreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk. 

We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”  

Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm. 

Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean. 

The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.  

Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours. 

According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards. 

Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation SocietyUntreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”  

In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.  

A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored. 

Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant. 

“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”. 

If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.   

For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.

Header image credit: Natasha Ewins

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