Normally, one would think it difficult to significantly expand upon the wave of traumatising stories and images emerging over the past year on the subject of plastic pollution and marine destruction, led famously by the footage broadcast into millions of homes as part of the BBC’s Blue Planet II. Remarkably, BLUE manages to produce yet more harrowing content to further illustrate the dire state of affairs of the ocean that have come about thanks to the ubiquitous spread of cheap plastic, among other factors.
‘The industrialisation of the oceans over the last century mirrors the events that triggered mass extinctions on land,’ narrates marine scientist Lucas Handley, as the film opens with shots of him swimming among dramatic schools of fish. ‘Habitat destruction, coastal development, pollution and industrial-scale fishing have all placed our oceans in peril. As marine life disappears, the very nature of the sea is also being altered. Yet, this is a hidden crisis, happening under the waves, falling on silent shores.’
Not all of these shores are quite so silent. Following the patrol of Philip Mango, sea ranger on Australia’s Cape York, shows how much of his and his team’s time is now devoted to trying to rid shorelines of the thousands of destructive ‘ghost nets’ that wash up on the beaches of northern Queensland. These abandoned fishing nets (often discarded by illegal fishing vessels) float around the oceans, riding the same currents that marine wildlife such as sea turtles use for their migrations, which often become entangled and drowned by these alien invaders. ‘This country has been untouched by the modern world, isolated from major towns and cities, left to exist in its natural state,’ says Mango, driving down an almost unspoilt beach. ‘But the world is coming to us.’
Truly disturbing is watching research scientist Dr Jennifer Lavers and her team trying to empty the stomach of a single shearwater chick, whose stomach is packed full of colourful but deadly pieces of plastic. First they force down a tube by which they can pump in fluid to flush out as much as possible, then Lavers needs to physically massage the bird’s stomach in order to slowly work out a few unbelievably large pieces, before a ‘squid smoothie’ can finally give the bird something nutritious to digest.
‘The adult was trying to do the right thing,’ says Lavers, while dissecting the stomach of another seabird, one unfortunately already killed by the deadly contents trapped within. ‘You can see there’s quite a large number of bottle caps, some melted plastic, another bottle cap... and we’ve got a pen lid here.’ Overall, she confidently estimates there to be bits of plastic in the stomachs of every single seabird on Lord Howe Island, and surrounding South Pacific islands. With so much work required to save the life of a single chick, there is little wonder this plastic debris costs the lives of over a million birds every year.
Many of the problems the film highlights might be familiar – including recent catastrophic coral bleaching events, as well as the Australian government’s sacrifice of the Great Barrier Reef’s sacrifice of the Great Barrier Reef in favour of profitable coal exports – and it strings all these themes together as part of one major problem that needs solving.
‘No matter where you live on our planet, you’re connected to the sea,’ continues Handley. ‘We need many things to make the world a better place, but nothing else will matter if we fail to protect the ocean. Our fate, and the oceans’, are one.’
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