Even if you're doing your best to avoid plastic packaging and creating pollution, it's inevitable that you'll receive items in the mail or as gifts that pose environmental hazards. Today we're going to take a look at entanglement hazards - loops and lengths of cord and packaging that can ensnare, and kill marine animals like birds, whales, seals, turtles and fish.

What can I do?

We acknowledge that in many cases you simply cannot refuse these items as they have a way of just arriving at your door. So, the solution is to "Cut a Loop" - snip open any plastic "loops" like the handles of a shopping packet or the plastic rings from the lids of milk bottles and mayonnaise jars and cut long lengths of material like box bands, the elastics of old underwear, synthetic cord, ribbons, and even the packaging tape into smaller pieces before discarding of them. Even if you dispose of your waste properly, these lightweight items can blow out of garbage bins and landfills easily.

Using a disposable face mask during the Covid-19 pandemic? Is your reusable mask made of synthetic fabric? Remember to cut up the elastic loops, tie cords and thick hemmed edges of your mask before disposing of it! Masks are fast becoming a major source of environmental pollution, so let's at least do our part to diminish the entanglement danger they pose while circumstances force us to use them.

In more general terms, you can also help to alleviate the entanglement risk by making sustainable packaging decisions (see Pledge #3), using alternatives to wrap gifts (see Pledge #21), saying no to balloons (Pledge #14) and supporting coastal cleanup initiatives, like the upcoming Trash Bash. Supporting sustainable seafood initiatives is another way to minimise entanglements, as irresponsibly discarded fishing gear is also a massive hazard to sea life.

Make your pledge a permanent commitment by leaving an Ocean Pledge.

For us here at the Two Oceans Aquarium in the V&A Waterfront, it's a full-time job trying to disentangle snagged seabirds and seals.

Why does it matter?

Simply put, more than 700 marine species are known to be at risk of entanglement by plastic pollution, resulting in millions of animal deaths a year. All 7 species of endangered turtles, 54% of all whales and dolphins, 114 types of fish, 56% of all seabird species, and even obscure animals like horseshoe crabs and duck-billed platypuses are being entangled, strangled and killed by our plastic waste.

Credit: Ray D. Chaplin

Myth-busting: Fishing gear is the main culprit

Naysayers of sustainable living often like to point out that the problem of ocean plastic pollution is actually due to lost and abandoned fishing gear, known as "ghost gear", these nets and lines continue to catch and kill animals while they drift the seas. While it is true that this type of pollution has an enormous negative impact on the ocean ecosystem, it is still not the main contributor to the pollution crisis, and should not be used as an excuse for inaction in our daily lives. Fishing gear makes up about 10% of the plastic pollution in our oceans, but because it is specifically designed to float, ensnare and avoid corrosion, it does cause proportionally more harm than day-to-day plastic. However, it's that 90% of other plastic that is still the most critical issue for us to tackle.

While stories of turtles like Annie, who was entangled in a ghost net, certainly are inspiring - we need to remember that hundreds of the other turtles that have undergone rehabilitation at the Aquarium have simply fallen victim to run-of-the-mill plastic packaging. Credit: Maryke Musson

Who can I follow?

The wildlife management team in the V&A Waterfront do some pretty epic disentanglement work! You can follow them on the Two Oceans Aquarium and Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation's social media.

Take the 28 Day Challenge! Make your Ocean Pledge!

This post is part of the #28DayOceanPledgeChallenge! You can find the other 27 posts and challenges on the Two Oceans Aquarium website, or by signing up for the Challenge newsletter below to receive one challenge a day for 28 days: