Our beloved underwater wonderlands are home to a host of unexpected killers. You’re probably wondering if I’m referring to the notoriously misunderstood Great White Shark. Nope.
Or possibly the pesky Box jellyfish? Guess again.
What about the master of disguise, the Stone Fish? Nice try.
These killers are far more damaging than any of these ocean inhabitants could ever be. They are silent, unexpected and congregating by the thousands, and it’s something we make use of almost every day.
Most commonly used for slurping up milkshakes and juices or to suck up a margarita on a Friday night, plastic straws are ending up in our oceans and are having devastating effects on precious marine life.
So why are these household items so bad for the ocean?
For one, straws are usually made from plastic. Plastic never breaks down. As time goes by plastic will separate into smaller and smaller pieces, but never completely biodegrades. These pieces can get so tiny that they are then ingested by marine life. Bigger marine life comes along and gobbles up the prey that has just swallowed a chunk of plastic, and so it makes its way up the food chain. When it comes to plastic, there is no such thing as throwing it ‘away’ and it’s estimated that there are over 8 million tonnes of plastic ending up in the ocean every year.
We use plastic straws a lot. In the USA alone, 500 million straws are used every single day. That’s enough to wrap the entire circumference of the Earth a whopping two and half times! So imagine if we multiplied that for every country in the world. It’s a lot of straws. On top of that, straws are a product we use and dispose of pretty quickly. On average, the time we spend sipping on a drink through a straw is a mere 20 minutes, which is an incredibly quick life cycle for an item that is never going to disappear off the planet.
Along with never biodegrading and filling oceans globally, plastic straws are having direct detrimental effects on endangered wildlife. Recently in Costa Rica, a team of scientists researching sea turtle mating habits discovered a male Olive Ridley sea turtle with a 10 cm long plastic straw wedged up its nostril.
At first the group thought the turtle had a parasitic worm blocking its airway, but then realized it was in fact a plastic straw. Hours away from veterinary help, the skilled scientists removed it themselves and successfully released the turtle back into the ocean. They filmed the whole ten minute long ordeal, and uploaded it on Youtube, where it went viral, reaching more than 5 million views and showing the world first hand exactly what the simple straw can do to fragile ecosystems and wildlife. Whilst incredibly graphic, the video served to act as a reminder of the impact simple plastic items can have on the sea. You can see the full video here, but be warned that it’s not pretty.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. By making a few small changes in everyday life, you can help reduce the amount of plastic straws that are ending up in the ocean. If you’re not too fazed about having a straw in your smoothie simply ask your barista or waiter to hold the straw. Easy peasy! If you’re a sucker for straws don’t despair, there are waste-free ways to sip on your beverages. There are plenty of re-usable straw options and many retailers today sell glass, stainless steel and bamboo straws.
Ultimately all roads, rivers and hills lead to the sea, so when you see a straw on the ground grab it and chuck it in the bin. A few days after the clip of the sea turtle went viral one scuba diver on the other side of the world, in the coastal city of Manly, Australia did an underwater dive clean up in the local area and found 319 straws on a 20-minute dive. 24 hours later she did another and found 294 in the exact same place! Small actions have big impact when it comes to protecting our underwater playground, and it’s easy for everyone to play their part.
The unfortunate turtle with a straw in its nose was found off Costa Rica. Costa Rica is home to one of the most diverse and spectacular arrays of marine life, and is an absolutely incredible destination to visit. Click the link to find out more about diving with turtles, dolphins and schools of manta rays in Costa Rica.