David Attenborough’s Blue Planet opened people’s eyes to the damage that plastic is doing to our oceans and marine environment and catapulted the issue up the agenda. Here in Cornwall, we have seen an astonishing amount of plastic wash up on our beaches during the recent storms. There is a consensus that it is time to change.
For several years, I have taken part in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean at Porthtowan, joining volunteers to clean up litter and record what we found. Surfers Against Sewage, based in St Agnes, have also done some fantastic work in raising awareness of the damage caused to the marine environment by plastic.
Plastic has always been a particular concern; it takes hundreds of years to break down and has been the subject of high profile debate recently. The problem is compounded year after year as new plastics find their way into the oceans while those that have already been there for decades remain and break down into smaller particles.
We know that ghost nets lost from fishing vessels can also have considerable impact on marine life. Each year, the Cornwall Seals Group based near Hayle find seals that have been entangled in nets or caught in discarded sections of net. We know that tiny particles of plastic attract toxins in the marine environment and when ingested by fish and marine mammals, those toxins can enter the body. With other marine species like molluscs and shell fish, plastics can block their digestive systems or affect their ability to function normally.
The 25 Year Environment Plan sets out goals for improving the environment, within a generation, and leaving it in a better state than we found it. The plan outlines how the government will work with communities and businesses to do this.
The government has pledged to crack down on plastics by eliminating all avoidable plastic waste through extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles.
The UK has committed to be a world leader in environmental protection by investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste, and extending the UK’s network of marine protected areas. We have made a good start but there is so much more to do.