One of our enrichment lecturers is a British naturalist, Robin, who specializes in whales, dolphins, and the marine environment. I first met him under interesting circumstances. I was going out to our veranda to work on the blog; and when I repositioned my chair, I discovered there was a sea bird underneath it. As luck would have it, I had talked to a friend the previous night who had spotted a sea bird on the balcony beneath her. She had attended the lecture on sea birds the previous day and had learned that birds landing on the verandas are unable to take off again so they are doomed to die unless rescued. Apparently they need some “wind beneath their wings” to take flight and they can’t get that on a veranda. She told us that she had notified guest services several times with no result. She finally went to Robin and he was able to organize the rescue of the bird she had spotted. Consequently, I knew immediately what to do. I found in our Viking Daily that Robin was presently in the lounge spotting wildlife. I went there immediately and told him my problem. Since there were no whales or dolphins around, he came directly to my room. He took one of our bath towels and threw it over the bird. He then picked the bird up in the towel with his hands around the body of the bird with the head uncovered. He held the bird out over the railing and threw it into the wind as far as he could. Happily, the bird took flight and quickly flew into the horizon. He said sometimes they still have the strength to fly and sometimes they don’t, but it is the only option to save them. Unfortunately, I was so focused on saving the bird that I forgot to take any pictures.
One of Robin’s talks was on the importance of the ocean and the challenges facing it. Of course, the ocean is a major source of food; but the amount of oxygen formed from carbon dioxide by photosynthesis in the ocean far exceeds the amount created by all the trees and plants on land. Plastic is one of the major challenges faced by the ocean. The estimated life of a piece of plastic is 450 years, so every piece of plastic ever made is still somewhere. Many marine animals seem to mistake plastic for food so it is very common to find pieces of plastic in dead marine animals. Much of the plastic will breakdown into microscopic pieces that work their way up the food chain until ultimately we are eating them. One of the most dangerous uses of plastic is the piece used to hold together six packs of soda. These are often found around the necks of birds or animals. And these problems don’t even consider the hydrocarbons that are consumed to make plastic.
Plastic disposed of improperly is very likely to find its way to a river; and if it reaches a river, it is very likely to reach the ocean where ocean currents tend to concentrate the waste in vast “garbage patches”. Even plastic taken to landfills may blow away before it is properly buried.
Europe has tried several approaches to reduce the use of plastic. Most stores there charge for the bags you use. Some places have tried charging a deposit on the plastic bag which is refunded when you return the bag for recycling. In Germany, people started a movement to remove all the plastic wrapping at the checkout counter and leave it there. This caused manufacturers to reduce their packaging.
So what can we do? Reducing the consumption and use of plastics is probably the best thing. Recycling of plastics is another good solution. Certainly picking up plastic on the ground and recycling it is helpful. I have changed two things I do on the ship as my small contribution: I now get my ice tea without straws and I keep refilling my plastic water bottle (everyone is given a bottle of water when they go out on an excursion) with tap water. I hope I can inspire a few more people to do something to reduce the plastic reaching the ocean.