(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Death by plastic a modern phenomenon takes months if not years in most cases and happens in one of three excruciating ways
The number of wild animals dying in the uae’s desert quarters each year after ingesting waste is set to grow according to prominent uae scientist dr ulli wernery. discarded rubbish is reaching epidemic proportions he says. death by plastic a modern phenomenon takes months if not years in most cases and happens in one of three excruciating ways.
Dr ulli wernery with one of the plastic gastroliths removed from a camel’s stomach after it caused its death. — kt photo by amanda fisher
In the first and most commonplace the animal ingests plastic over the course of years that cannot be digested. the plastic sits in the animal’s stomach making it think it is full so it fails to eat eventually starving to death. the second way is a clean obstruction of the animal’s intestines which causes it to die within 48 hours. the third another long-term death that causes much suffering is via poisoning.
“you have plastic in your stomach it disintegrates slowly and releases a lot of different poisons and then it damages and destroys mainly the intestines and the liver” dr ulli wernery who is the scientific director at dubai’s central veterinary research laboratory (cvrl) says.
For 18 years dr ulli has been campaigning to eliminate the use of plastic and encourage a waste-free uae society. “it was completely new to me (18 years ago) and then year by year it got worse — more plastic more dying animals from plastic from ropes from cutlery ... because animals are curious they nibble around and then they swallow it.”
With increasingly more campers exploring the uae’s wadis comes more pollution and things are getting worse. “there are too many who litter and you cannot do anything about it.
“the pollution in oman is so bad ... wadis are full of rubbish.”
While there may be rubbish bins placed around they are often overflowing because of infrequent rubbish collection. this is compounded when desert storms and heavy winds blow the lightweight rubbish in every direction. “the desert has become a rubbish dump.”
Dr ulli has published a brochure distributed through the dubai municipality. “everybody is shocked when they see the pictures but that’s all.”
Unfortunately the phenomenon of dying animals is fairly commonplace. “... (in) mammals — including gazelles sheep goats camels — we see 25 to 30 per cent have plastic in their stomach compartments.”
Half of those animals would likely have died from the fatal pollution he says meaning dozens are probably dying each year. outside the cvrl labs dr ulli has a wall of shame where gastricliths — hardened stone-like remains of indigestible plastic — have taken on the form of camel stomachs. dr ulli has several specimans weighing over 50kg. “i can hardly lift it ... (the accumulation) is not from one day. they eat and eat it takes months maybe years until they die. this plastic also releases toxins and destroys the organs because it’s stuck there.”
Several years ago dr ulli got called out to see a sick camel that could no longer stand but he could not figure out what was wrong with it. he fed it copious amounts of water through a hose-pipe which seemed to help revive it. “but the next day it was dead and i opened it up and found this plastic.”
These calcified balls of fatal pollution are such a scientific curio that dr ulli sent some to the smithsonian institute in america which has put it on display for the public to see.
But it is not just desert animals that are dying but also marine life with widely-publicised cases of turtles eating plastic bags that appear to be jellyfish in the sea motion.
Dr ulli says there is evidence to suggest polar bears and birds that have fed on fish contaminated with tiny particles of broken down plastic — called nurdles — have had their sexual hormones affected causing a low rate of reproduction or likelihood of male newborns.
The worst of the plastic pollution is the possibility we are poisoning ourselves he says. “we believe all the plastic produced on this earth is still around us it may be there after thousands of years.”
What can be done?
Dr ulli now lives a life “99 per cent” free from plastic as even plastic water bottles could release potentially harmful toxins into your body. “if possible everybody should do it if we want to survive.”
The first thing dr ulli says is to figure out why people are not disposing of their rubbish. “why do people do this what is in their heads? is this negligence stupidity ignorance what is it? i want to know why and maybe this can be the way to convince people not to do it.”
This kind of issue is common across the globe the german scientist says. “everybody knows that it’s bad and getting worse and worse. it’s a global problem it’s not a (middle eastern) problem.”
He has a suggestion for one sure-fire way to enact change. “(we need) zero tolerance and you’ve got to fine these people they have to feel it in their pocket otherwise they will not change. when i see someone throwing something out of their car window i write down the (license plate).”
He wants to see an 800 number people can call to turn in private citizens littering similar to the municipality’s hotline for big industrial waste. “the municipality i see them every morning they try to clean ... they do their best.”
More manageable things include recycling and avoiding plastic bags.