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Picture1Saturday, 16 September is International Coastal Clean-up Day and a number of Trans Africa Safaris’ staff are lending a hand on Cape Town beaches. Events are planned in Hout Bay (Cape Town), Plettenberg Bay and a number of other coastal towns in effort to spread awareness of marine pollution, and assist in beach clean-up operations.

This is a chance for us to reflect on the impact that our species has on the marine environment and hopefully an opportunity to do something, no matter how small, to relieve the pressure on the re st of the species with whom we share this space.

Picture2Propelled by the wind and ocean currents, litter – which is highly persistent in the environment – travels very long distances and becomes widely dispersed throughout the oceans. With this pollution increasingly in the form of tiny plastic bits, picking up a few bottles left on the beach can feel far removed from the massive problem of miniscule plastic bits (known as microplastics) floating out at sea. Plastic starts breaking down, or degrading, when exposed to light and high temperatures from the sun. This process known as photo-oxidation happens much faster on land than in the comparatively cool waters of the ocean.

Picture3On a sunny, warm beach, a plastic water bottle starts to show the effects of photo-oxidation. Its surface becomes brittle and tiny cracks start forming. Those larger shards of plastic break apart into smaller and smaller pieces. A brisk wind or child playing on the beach may cause this brittle outer layer of plastic to crumble. The tide washes these now tiny pieces of plastic into the ocean.

Once in the ocean, the process of degrading slows down for the remains of this plastic bottle. It can sink below the water surface, where less light and heat penetrate and less oxygen is available. In addition, plastics can quickly become covered in a thin film of marine life, which further blocks light from reaching the plastic and breaking it down. And so these microplastics can exist for many decades in our oceans.

Picture4Some of the devastating effects of marine pollution are:

• One million seabirds are killed by marine pollution every year
• 100,000 turtles and marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales and seals, are killed by plastic marine litter every year around the world
• Plastics are the most common man-made objects sighted at sea, with 18,000 pieces of plastic litter floating on every square kilometre of the world’s oceans!
• Six million tonnes of debris enters the world’s oceans every year, weighing about the same as a million elephants!
• More than 260 animal species worldwide have become entangled in or consumed fishing line, nets, ropes and other discarded equipment
• An astounding 86 per cent of all marine turtles are affected by marine debris
• Every day ships throughout the world discard 5.5 million pieces of rubbish into our oceans
• Carbon emissions into our atmosphere are killing our coral reefs! Our oceans are absorbing the excess carbon dioxide and becoming more acidic. The acid is literally ‘eating away’ the skeleton of the corals


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