We are #ReadyToChange to #BeatPlasticPollution in South Africa, in our ocean and across the world. The Two Oceans Aquarium recognises the danger posed by the growing tide of plastic pollution in our environment - from the direct harm it causes to marine life to the health effects that bioaccumulation of toxins in the food chain could have on humans. There is no better time for action than right now - that's why we're joining up with aquariums around the world to say enough is enough.
Why does this matter?
Estimates are that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish (there are already more pieces of plastic in the ocean than fish). From the tiniest organism to the gigantic whales, plastic poses a threat to all creatures in the ocean. Over a million seabirds are killed each year due to plastic pollution and, with over 51 trillion pieces of microplastics in the sea, microscopic plankton are feeding on plastic which causes the plastic to enter the food chain which includes humans.
Considering the immense pressure on ever-dwindling landfill space in South Africa, the fact that our per capita waste production is 2kg per day (of which 12% is plastic) and the fact that South Africa is the 11th largest contributor globally to plastic pollution in the ocean, the time to curb the flow of waste is now.
At the Two Oceans Aquarium, we experience the destruction caused by plastic pollution first-hand, and we work tirelessly and passionately to raise awareness about the issue. In 2017, in consultation with our staff, we chose plastic pollution in the ocean as one of our key sustainability focus areas. We include messaging around single-use plastic and plastic pollution in the ocean in our exhibits, in feed talk presentations, outreach programmes, in blogs and social media, and in education programmes and publications. Our six environmental campaigns incorporate very clear and concise messaging around the use of plastic and the destructive impact it has on the environment.
Bob and Alvi are two remarkable sea turtles with something more in common than meets the eye. Both are sub-adult green turtles. Bob was found stranded on a beach four hours away from Cape Town in 2014. Alvi suffered the same fate in 2018. Both were brought to the Two Oceans Aquarium for rehabilitation. Beyond these obvious similarities, these two turtles had a sinister life-threatening condition which connected them. When they arrived at the Aquarium, three years apart, both of these turtles presented with the symptoms of ingested plastic. It took about three months from his arrival, for Bob to pass a large amount of plastic. He had mistakenly ingested this plastic, which included bits of balloon, as it looked just like his natural food – seagrass. Alvi, showing signs of laboured breathing on his arrival at the Aquarium, had a piece of plastic bag stuck in his throat. Bob and Alvi are two of the lucky ones. They were rescued and are currently undergoing rehabilitation at the Aquarium. There are thousands of other marine animals, just like these two turtles, that are not so lucky and die from starvation or suffocation.
What are we doing about it?
Through the work of our Environmental Campaigner, Hayley McLellan, who is also a 5 Gyres ambassador, these messages have reached thousands of people beyond the Aquarium, with many more being added every day. Hayley interacts with schools, clubs, communities, companies, organisations; government and retailers to further the messaging around having plastic bags banned in South Africa. Through interaction and consultation with the #RethinkTheBag campaign, led by Hayley, a number of national retailers in South Africa, have announced that they will be phasing out the sale of plastic shopping bags over the next couple of years, while one, Bargain Books, has already stopped selling these bags. The #RethinkTheBag campaign features prominently on reusable bags sold by two major retailers, with growing engagement and commitment from this sector.
Earlies this year the Two Oceans Aquarium hosted the Home to Ocean "Plastic knows no borders” Summit to share ideas, information and advances that have been made in recent years, when it comes to plastic and plastic in the oceans. The Summit drew together some of the key role players in the local plastics arena – PlasticsSA, the International Ocean Institute, the V&A Waterfront, The Really Great Material Company, Woolworths, SPAR, Wasteplan, Nude Foods, Shop Zero, Future Kids, Oceano Reddentes, Earth Child, Sea the Future, Sea the Bigger Picture, Redefine Properties, SAFCEI, and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, among others. The summit proved to be a great success, resulting in information and achievements being shared amongst the delegates. It also provided a space for stakeholders to ask burning questions, and to receive honest answers.
Each year, the Two Oceans Aquarium takes part in Plastic Free July and encourages participation across all audiences. Plastic Free July is an international campaign in response to the issue of plastic pollution which has become so pervasive in our oceans and which is responsible for the distress and deaths of thousands of marine animals. For Plastic Free July, the Aquarium asks everyone to say "no thank you" to single-use plastic shopping bags, takeaway cups, drinking straws and other items that are contributing to the pollution crisis currently plaguing our oceans.
This is not just about the environment, but also about preserving a beautiful, healthy and habitable world for future generations. Across the globe, young people are taking a stand to protect our planet - and the Two Oceans Aquarium is using the Plastic Free July campaign in 2019 to empower South African youths to create positive change for the betterment of all. During Plastic Free July 2019, the Two Oceans Aquarium has put out a challenge to all schools to become plastic bag-free zones. Currently, seven schools have committed to being plastic bag-free zones.
In 2018, the Aquarium launched its beach cleanup campaign called Trash Bash with the support of The Beach Co-Op. One of the goals of Trash Bash is to collect scientific data about the 12 most prevalent plastic litter items found in the ocean (called the "Dirty Dozen"), how they are distributed and the rate at which the debris collected on the coast. In 2018, this collection included 5 800 sweet wrappers, 4 454 lollipop sticks and 3 772 earbud sticks from one beach. This data will be used in a study by Professor Peter Ryan, based at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, who has been studying plastics on Cape Town beaches for many years.
In 2019, the Trash Bash campaign continues, but is moving to different beaches each time to ensure that a good cross-section of the community has the opportunity to take part and make a difference to the ocean environment closest to their homes. This year we are doing six cleanups - nearly 1 500 kg of trash has already been collected in the first three cleanups.
Where do the animals fit in?
Alvi and Bob are not the only turtles that are receiving rehabilitation at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Each year, the Aquarium takes in hatchling loggerhead turtles that are found, by the public, stranded on Cape Town beaches. During the 2019 season (March- current), more than 200 turtles have been brought to the Aquarium. Many of these have been found to have ingested plastic. Some of the plastics that have been found are hard shards, while others, like this little turtle, managed to pass soft pieces, including pieces of balloons.
In 2018 we opened the "turtle wall", a new, interactive way for families to learn about sea turtles, their migrations and the threats they face in the wild. One of the displays in this area demonstrates how floating plastic bags look remarkably similar to jellies, a food source for many marine animals including turtles. This shows how easy it is for turtles to mistake plastic for food.
The Aquarium currently manages two food outlets in its building. Both of these outlets make use of PLA packaging for sandwiches, PLA coffee cup lids, wooden stirrers, and paper straws. We also work closely with our gift shop tenant which has made great strides in reducing the number of plastic products on sale as well as cutting down on plastic packaging.
Our latest Puppet Story performance and the associated book, Wetlands, not Wastelands, tells the story of the journey of a plastic bag and its impact on the environment, while it also deals with the importance of wetlands in the ecosystem. The book is part of a series of children’s books that focuses on litter, human interaction with the environment, as well as biological and scientific systems such as the water cycle.
Why are we telling you this? We believe that the only way we can make a difference is by being accountable and working together. We hope that by sharing our efforts, we can encourage YOU to also do your part to make a difference to help beat plastic pollution.
As Anne Mari Bonneau said: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”