A bright morning after a big cape winter storm, I thought I would take Cassie (the dog) for an early morning stroll down the beach. The cold sand under my feet, the cool ocean washing over my ankles. The tide was slowly falling down the sand exposing this conjuncture between land and ocean, town and wild place, safe and the unknown. Unfortunately, it also exposed two other ever clashing contrasts, the hope of new life and biodiversity, and an overwhelming flux of plastic.

Glencairn Beach, where the plastics were collected at the high tide mark
Glencairn Beach, where the plastics were collected at the high tide mark

This plastic collection was collected in the space of approximately 5-6 m and 2 minutes along the high tide mark. This plastic has been broken down through exposure to UV rays and increased friction of the sand. Creating what is known as micro plastics (plastics which have broken down to less the 5mm in length). All of this in what is known as a relatively clean and healthy area with a small density population density (compared to areas closer to the city). Yet the density of micro plastics was huge. This demonstrates how plastics move through currents and winds and effect much broader distributions and are not localized. There are no boarders to waste and pollution, just like viruses like COVID-19.

Micro plastics displayed on 5mm squared paper to measure particle size
Micro plastics displayed on 5mm squared paper to measure particle size

As these plastics breakdown further and get smaller, they find their way into animal digestive systems and the really small bits can even seep into the bloodstream and circulatory systems of species. Plastics harbor concentrated chemicals and hormones as they attach and bind with the surface of the plastic, as they break down further, increasing surface area, concentrations rise. These are ingested and can have hormonal and toxic effects of those who digest them. Guess what? Then we catch them and put them on our plates for human consumption.

This is a problem which is not going away and will eventually have similar if not more severe effects on humanity than COVID-19. As our food chain collapses or become to toxic for consumption.

But there is hope!

I also found three shark eggs from two different species of benthic shark’s endemic to this area. The Puffadder shyshark and the dark shyshark. Which in fear of this post becoming to

Much of a downer gave me a feeling of hope as they signify new baby sharks born into the ecosystem and a great example of the diversity, we are so privileged to have here in False Bay and South Africa in general. False Bay is host to over 3,500 endemic species and some incredible ecosystems which support not only local biodiversity but global fish stock health.

Let’s hope they survive this perilous world we have created.

Categories: News

Mike Barron

Mike is a marine biologist/scientist/conservationist and a PADI master scuba diver instructor. He has travelled the world diving and experiencing many ecosystems and their inhabitants. His main interests lie in the field of inter-specific animal behaviour and he has worked on shark deterrents using Killer whale stimuli.

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