Plastic threatens migratory species in Asia-Pacific: UN

Garbage and plastic garbage are seen from fishing boats in a port in Banda Aceh on October 29, 2020. (CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP)

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(AFP) – From endangered freshwater dolphins drowned in discarded fishing nets to elephants rummaging through trash, migratory species are among the most vulnerable to plastic pollution, a UN report on the Asia-Pacific region said Tuesday , in which larger measures to reduce waste are called for.

Plastic particles have infiltrated even the most remote and seemingly pristine regions of the planet, with tiny fragments being discovered in fish in the deepest depths of the ocean and in Arctic sea ice.

The UN Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Wildlife Species (CMS) paper focused on the effects of plastic on freshwater species in rivers, as well as on land animals and birds, which researchers say were often overlooked victims of humanity’s widening garbage crisis.

As these creatures encounter different environments – including industrialized and polluted areas – they are likely to be at risk of higher exposure to plastics and related pollutants.

Researchers cited estimates that 80 percent of the plastic that ends up in the oceans comes from land – with rivers playing a key role in moving garbage into the ocean.

The report comes just days before a major International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) summit that will include a motion calling for an end to marine pollution by plastic by 2030.

“The measures taken to solve this global problem fell far short of what was necessary,” said CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel.

“The focus so far has been on cleaning up our oceans, but that is already too late. We need to focus on solutions and preventing plastic pollution in advance.”

– ‘Additional stress’ –

The UN report highlights two regions – the river basins of the Ganges and the Mekong – which together contribute an estimated 200,000 tons of plastic pollution to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean each year.

Discarded fishing gear has been found to be a major threat.

Dolphins can become entangled and caught by old nets underwater, with the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and Ganges dolphins being particularly at risk.

The report also states that migratory seabirds such as black-footed albatross and Laysan albatross may not be able to distinguish plastic from prey as they fly over the ocean and accidentally eat floating debris.

This means the plastic could build up in their bowels or be passed on to their chicks when they vomit up food for them, it said.

On land, Asian elephants have also been observed rummaging around rubbish dumps in Sri Lanka and eating plastic in Thailand, the report said.

The report emphasized that species in the Asia-Pacific region face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, overfishing, industrial pollution and climate change.

“Even if plastic pollution is not the most important of these stressors, it can put an additional burden on the population groups that are already at risk,” it says.

She called for strategies to prevent plastic from entering the environment, reduce waste through better design and recycling, and greater efforts to understand the effects of this pollution on migratory species.

© Agence France-Presse

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