Whale found dead with 6kg plastic in its stomach - how you can help save our oceans

The pollution of our oceans has again raised concern after 6kg of plastic was found in the stomach of a dead whale.

BBC reported on Tuesday that the plastic items included 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops.

The carcass of the 9.5m sperm whale was reportedly found in waters near Kapota Island in the Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia on Monday.

According to The Associated Press (AP), the whale had more than 1 000 individual pieces of plastic in its intestines.

"Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," said Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia.

READ: Dead whale had 115 plastic cups, 2 flip-flops in its stomach

She said it was not possible to determine if the plastic had caused the whale's death because of the animal's advanced state of decay.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 260 million people, is the world's second-largest plastic polluter after China, according to a study published in the journal Science in January. It produces 3.2 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste a year, of which 1.29m tons ends up in the ocean, the study said.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister of maritime affairs, said the whale's discovery should raise public awareness about the need to reduce plastic use, and had spurred the government to take tougher measures to protect the ocean.

"I'm so sad to hear this," said Pandjaitan, who has campaigned for less use of plastic. "It is possible that many other marine animals are also contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives."

Making efforts to reduce plastic

He said the government was making efforts to reduce the use of plastic, including urging shops not to provide plastic bags for customers and teaching about the problem in schools nationwide to meet a government target of reducing plastic use by 70%, by 2025.

"This big ambition can be achieved if people learn to understand that plastic waste is a common enemy," he told AP.

In July this year, a whale died in southern Thailand after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags, with rescuers failing to nurse the marine mammal back to health, AFP reported.

Plastic bags found inside a dead whale's stomach
Plastic bags found inside a whale's stomach. (AFP)

The small male pilot whale was found barely alive in a canal near the border with Malaysia, the country's department of marine and coastal resources said.

A veterinary team tried to help stabilise its illness but the whale eventually died.

An autopsy revealed 80 plastic bags weighing up to 8kg in the creature's stomach, the department added.

According to the UN, more than 8 million tons of plastic leak into the ocean each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute.

"According to some estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic," the UN said.

To help to prevent this, UN Environment launched a global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: microplastics - found in cosmetics - and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.

Governments urged to reduce plastic use

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali in February last year, the #CleanSeas campaign is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: "It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We've stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop."

Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate microplastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.

Ten countries have so far joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide.

Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70% by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year and Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education, UN Environment said.

The WWF has said plastic is killing and harming marine life. It said turtles eat plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish; seabirds are found with their stomachs full of plastic items; plastic debris can get lodged in coral and affect the health of reefs; microplastics are consumed by animals like plankton, passing the problem back up the food chain – to people.

"Plastic is found in the deepest reaches of the ocean, and even in remote Arctic sea ice. It's a sobering example of our footprint on Earth."

Act now

"We need to act now – there's no time to waste. Schemes like bottle deposits are a good place to start, but we're so reliant on plastics that we need to do a lot more to wean ourselves off them. A full plan to ban avoidable single use plastics by 2025 – such as plastic cups and cutlery – could make the real difference we need to protect the planet.

"We also need businesses to take the issue seriously, as some are already – whether it's supermarkets having a plastic free aisle [or] companies finding alternatives to plastic packaging.

"As individuals we can also help by making lifestyle changes, like recycling more or drinking from reusable water bottles. You might think your contribution is small, but together our collective action is powerful.

"We need urgent action – from individuals, businesses and governments. We are all part of the problem, and we all have a role to play in fighting back," WWF urged.

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