Plastic planet: one triumph and one tragedy

I’ve just been readinA plastic bag in the Red Seag an update on efforts in Egypt to make the Red Sea the first plastic bag-free zone in the country.

Discarded plastic bags were causing the deaths of birds, turtles, dolphins and other marine creatures which swallowed or became entangled in the rubbish blown out to sea. I’ve dived the Red Sea a couple of times and been disappointed to see litter – it really makes your heart sink.

But the governor of the Red Sea brought in legislation in January, and the campaign seems to be doing extremely well.

HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association) has now given out 50,000 cloth bags free-of-charge; most local restaurants and shops have started giving out paper bags instead, and people are re-using their plastic ones.An albatross full of plastic from the Pacific

In a perfect example of how going green usually has even wider benefits, the making of these fabric bags has generated much-needed employment for local women.

It’s a lovely ‘good-news’ story, but what a contrast to the photo-story on The Guardian site yesterday that highlighted the monstrous swathes of plastic floating around in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

A mass of plastic bottles, caps and beer can loops the size of Texas is hidden beneath the surface of the water, breaking down into tiny parts that get into the food chain at the lowest level.

The effect on bird life is also catastrophic. Albatrosses pick up the litter and feed it to their young, thinking it’s food. On the nearby coral atoll known as Midway are the corpses of thousands of albatross chicks which have died from starvation, toxicity, and choking. Dead albatross on The Midway

The photographer, Chris Jordan, did not interfere with the corpses in any way – the photos show the exact contents of the chick’s stomach when it died what must have been its very painful death. There are more photos in all their technicolour glory on his website.

You don’t see so much about ‘Keeping Britain Tidy’ any more. It’s perhaps a less pressing concern in the face of irreversible climate change, but these photos have been a chilling reminder to me of why litter is still very much something we should be worrying about.

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