x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Plastic debris is entering the food chain, warns film preview in UAE

Filmmaker hopes to educate viewers on the magnitude of the problem of plastic discarded in the oceans.

A dead Shearwater on Lord Howe Island, in the north Pacific, pictured with plastic debris discovered in its stomach. Courtesy Jo Ruxton
A dead Shearwater on Lord Howe Island, in the north Pacific, pictured with plastic debris discovered in its stomach. Courtesy Jo Ruxton

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a vast area of ocean covered in floating debris – is worrying enough but it is just one aspect of the harm caused to the oceans by plastic.

That is the warning from the producer of a film to be previewed in Dubai today and Abu Dhabi tomorrow.

From the bottom of the Mediterranean to the Los Angeles River, plastic debris is entering the food chain, wreaking havoc on marine creatures and threatening human health, says the underwater wildlife producer Jo Ruxton.

Ms Ruxton, a former BBC producer involved in series such as Blue Planet, has been working on her film Plastic Oceans for four years.

The film was shot at nine locations around the world, each of which illustrates an important part of the problem.

One of these locations is Lord Howe Island in the North Pacific, where shearwaters – long-winged seabirds – are eating so much plastic that many have difficulty flying. Shearwaters mistake the rubbish for squid.

Scientists have seen changes in the gender ratio of newly hatched chicks, 90 per cent of which are male.

The film also highlights the problems faced by small island nations such as Tuvalu in the South Pacific, which has no capacity to deal with plastic waste so it slowly builds up in landfills and is occasionally burnt, releasing dangerous air pollutants.

The film demonstrates how plastic is carried to the ocean by wind or run-off before being picked up by gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, that collect it into one area.

One such example is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is the product of debris collected by the North Pacific ocean gyre.

But there are four other major subtropical gyres in the world – the South Pacific, the North and the South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean.

It takes 20 years for plastic waste to travel from land to the centre of a gyre, posing another problem.

Exposed to the elements, the debris breaks down to pieces “so tiny you just don’t see them”, Ms Ruxton said.

“The problem with the plastics is that when they get into the ocean they attract toxins like magnets.

“So things like agricultural and industrial run-off, even things like DDT that we don’t use any more, they don’t like just floating around in the water, and it just so happens that plastic is a perfect transport medium for them.”

This poses a problem for rare marine mammals such as blue whales.

“With every mouthful they are taking 75,000 litres of water,” Ms Ruxton said. “So our question is: how much plastic are we forcing these guys to eat?”

It is also a problem for humans.

“Fish is a protein for a massive proportion of people on the planet,” she said.

Scientists are finding pieces of plastic in the gut of commercially important fish species.

But while people rarely eat the gut of fish, the toxins carried by plastics tend to dislodge in the fatty tissues.

“The bits that we like to crisp up just under the skin are where the toxins are,” said Ms Ruxton.

“These toxins have been associated with a lot of the things that are on the increase like autoimmune deficiencies like diabetes and arthritis, cancers, infertility, endocrine disruption and cognitive development [problems].”

Viewers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be able to hear from Ms Ruxton and see 30 minutes of footage. The film is still being completed and Ms Ruxton is looking for £350,000 (Dh1.9 million) to finish shooting in  the US and Holland. She hopes to finish in June.

The Dubai screening is being organised by the Emirates Diving Association at Vox Cinemas, Mercato Mall, today at 7.30pm.

Al Mahara Diving Centre is organising the Abu Dhabi screening, at the ADMA-OPCO auditorium at 4.45pm.

vtodorova@thenational.ae