Sunday, 22 March 2009

The perils of plastic bags and balloons

A recent kayaking trip on the west coast of Arran revealed that our marine birds are also getting started with their breeding season. Rafts of eiders were spotted off shore, with groups of 8 or so males and females gathering up and down the coast. Pairs of shelduck and mergansers were also spotted. Spring can be an optimistic time and it was great to see these signs of courtship.
However, the trip also reveled a darker side of life as large amounts of plastic and other rubbish was being swept ashore on a rolling swell from the Irish Sea. A line of debris about 50m off shore stretched from Imachar to Lochranza. Amongst the rubbish were some really dangerous items for wildlife, including this balloon. Filled with helium, it once brought a smile to someones face, but released, accidentally or deliberately, it inevitably found its way in to the sea where it could easily have been mistaken for a jellyfish. Leatherback turtles and even whales and dolphins have been known to eat balloons and plastic bags, often with fatal consequences. Marine litter is a serious hazard to wildlife, and it is not just balloons and plastic bags that cause problems. Smaller plastic pieces are ingested by seabirds, such as fulmars, and these can also be fatal. Birds and animals may become entangled in fishing nets and lines and other abandoned debris. Microscopic particles of plastic are ingested by all sorts of creatures. Plastics easily absorb pollutants and these then enter the food chain- our food chain.
Here on Arran, many of the villages organise regular beach cleans to try and minimise the amount of rubbish on our beaches. The Marine Conservation Society, one of the charities involved with the Arran Wildlife Festival, campaigns to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the sea in the first place, through education programmes, encouraging a reduction in plastic bag use, and annual beach cleans. For more information have a look at the MCS website's pollution pages: