We’ve posted extensively about the dangers of plastic pollution before, and we have shown first-hand pictures of how plastic marine debris – litter, carelessly discarded – affects turtles and seals here in the Cape Peninsula.

The terrible effects of discarded fishing line and other plastic trash are also true for the birds that live and breed in and around the V&A Waterfront harbour.

On Sunday 20 December, Two Oceans Aquarium Specialist Technician Vincent Calder and Senior Aquarist Nicholas Nicolle were called out to help a cormorant that was entangled in fine nylon fishing line.

A big thank you to Lisa Kowen, who was in an adjacent boat, for the photographs. 

“The line had begun creating lesions in the bird’s body, but they weren’t very deep yet so it must’ve been a fairly recent entangling,” says Nicholas. “The bird was struggling to swim, and it definitely couldn’t fly.”

Nicholas Nicolle and Vincent Calder with the cormorant

The team then handed over the bird to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), where it will be held for observation for about two weeks until the vets there are confident that the cormorant is healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

Nicholas says that cormorants in the harbour are using fishing line and other plastic debris for their nest material. “In a way, they are helping the seals!”

Then, later on Sunday, Nicholas and Vincent were called out again to assist a seal that was entangled in an un-cut rope.

Plastic is killing our marine life

These days, it seems that an animal not somehow affected by plastic waste is an exception, not the rule. Pictures of plastic found in a dead orca that stranded in the Plettenberg Bay area have gone viral (the orca’s stomach contents included a yoghurt tub, a shoe sole, and noodle packets).

The contents of the orca's stomach. This orca starved to death. 

The graphic, disturbing video of a turtle having a straw removed from its nose was recently matched by a video of a different turtle having a plastic fork removed from its nose.

According to National Geographic, plastic trash is found in 90% of seabirds. Plastic is in the fish that we eat; it’s in table salt.

This crisis now goes beyond a few individual animals. It’s a global crisis with devastating reach.

What can we do?

Tread lightly. Think about what you consume, about the packaging that goes along with it, and where that packaging goes. Remember that there is no “away”. Even waste that is “responsibly” sent to landfill does not disappear. Recycle or re-use whatever you can.

Refuse straws (they suck).

Bust your need for balloons (they blow).

Rethink all single-use plastic (including shopping bags). 

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum

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