Ahead of the significant summit of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a report published by the United Nations highlighted that plastic pollution poses a threat to the migratory species that dwell on the land and in freshwater habitats, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
Already endangered Species like Gangetic and Irrawaddy dolphins, Asian elephants and the Black-footed Albatrosses are very vulnerable to plastic pollution. The report was released by the United Nations Conservation of Migratory Species and Wild Animals.
Report Focused on Species of Asia-Pacific
For the first time, the report focused on the impacts of plastic pollution on animals, birds and aquatic beings in the Asia-Pacific region. The study was particularly focused on the Ganges and Mekong river basins that contribute to 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste into the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean annually. Due to the ingestion of microplastics in the stomachs of the animals, the food web suffers disturbances. Additionally, they are also vulnerable to entanglement in plastics.
Researchers said that plastic pollution in rivers often goes unnoticed, and the pollution impacts the species that fall under the protected category of CMS in river ecosystems and on land. Freshwater inhabitants, land animals, and migratory species often fall victim to the expanding trash crisis of human beings.
Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) summit had mentioned that air-breathing animals of freshwater ecosystems are mainly at the risk of plastic pollution. Entanglement in the waste can prevent them from coming over water for air, thus leading to drowning and death. The IUCN summit is likely to include a motion calling to end maritime pollution by 2030.
Less Than 100 Irrawaddy Dolphins In Mekong Delta
The report estimated that 3,500 individuals still live in the wild, and the Gangetic Dolphins were rated as the second-most vulnerable species to the risk of entanglement and adverse effects of discarded fishing gear in the revered river. The Mekong Delta inhabits less than 100 Irrawaddy Dolphins reported drowning due to entanglement. Both Gangetic and Irrawaddy Dolphins are considered 'endangered' in the IUCN red list.
Research Focused on Maritime Pollution
The dugong is another animal in the Asia- Pacific region that is protected under the CMS list. The species is often seen to drown or entangle in fishing nets and plastic waste. India and Thailand contribute to most of the deaths of the species.
This particular research focused on maritime pollution. However, most plastic waste is disposed of and sometimes treated on the land. In the global research, terrestrial pollution is gravely under-represented, the Hindustan Times quoted. However, it is undeniable that plastic pollution has adversely impacted a wide range of land animals.
Amy Fraenkel, the executive secretary of CMS, was quoted saying that since the most plastic waste was generated on the land, it was unfortunately not surprising that it was impacting the migratory animals and other species that lived both on land and water. In the 13th Conference of Parties in 2020, the CMS had 'protected' the Asian Elephant. The Species was observed scavenging on plastic waste and ingesting plastic in Thailand.
Birds represent over 80 per cent of the CMS-listed species of the Asia-Pacific. This means that there is significant evidence that nearly 500 species of birds are in constant interaction with plastics. The report also highlighted that migratory seabirds like Black-footed Albatrosses and Laysan Albatrosses may not differentiate between prey and plastic while flying above the ocean. Thus they can end up picking on the debris floating on the ocean instead of the supposed prey. This plastic could either accumulate in their gut or be passed on to the chicks while they regurgitate food for them.
In the heart-breaking pieces of evidence of the report, migratory birds like Black-faced Spoonbills and the Osprey have been noticed making their nests out of plastic, fishing lines and other shipping debris. This forced usage of plastic by the birds can end up entangling their chicks.
The Executive Secretary further added that "Clearly, we have huge gaps in the scientific literature of the threats of plastic pollution on many species." He mentioned that better research is the need of the hour to identify the risk to these species better and come up with appropriate measures to address them.
The report zeroed upon the fishing gear and kite threads as significant threats to the bird species. More so, kite threads are the second-most frequent source of plastic hazards to birds and other terrestrial animals. Fraenkel said that steps taken to address the issue have fallen short of what is required. The solutions discussed have been to clean up the oceans, but that is already too far. Everyone needs to come together to prevent the problem from going upstream.
Most Vulnerable: Migratory Birds
Migratory species are the most vulnerable to plastic pollution since they travel far and wide and are exposed to various environments. Therefore, it is natural to assume that they would be in closer proximity to heavily industrialised spaces and associated with contaminants. The global capacity to maintain plastic waste is not keeping up with estimated growth in the plastics market, making it a global problem.
Recent research in the field of Science and Technology mentioned that even after employing ambitious reduction measures, up to 53 million tonnes could end up entering the aquatic ecosystem by 2030. Moreover, if no reduction measures are taken, this figure could be as high as 90 million tonnes. In the years to come, global environmental contamination is likely to increase.
Bringing Science Closer To Policy Making
Dechen Tsering of the United Nation's Environment Programme's regional director for Asia said that bringing science closer to policy-making is the shared mission. The matter of concern also spurts to be that long-term effect for organisms, ecosystems, the food web, and human health remains unclear.
Given the rapid increase in plastic, the research priority should be understanding the effects of plastic exposure and ingestion on organisms and ecosystems.