On July 1, we will begin asking shoppers to find alternate ways to take their merchandise home from the Zoo’s Gift Shop. Why you ask? Plastic pollution is harmful to wildlife such as sea turtles and pelicans. Known to many as “the world’s most preventable problem,” plastic pollution has grown exponentially over the last 50 years suffocating our oceans. While that sentence is full of disheartening truth the reality is that all hope is not lost!
Plastic most definitely enters oceans via activity on land. The miracle polymer that has provided humans with engineering and medical advances certainly has a place in the world. Can you imagine a hospital without a sterile IV? However, the single-use, throw away items could be used less. Drink lids, straws, and single-use plastic bags are some of the most prevalent items found floating in the open ocean. The good news is they all have reusable options! So what happens to the plastic when its time on land is done and it makes its way out to sea? It will eventually, though it may take years, make its way to one of the five gyres. These gyres are located in the North and South Pacific Oceans, the North and South Atlantic Oceans, and the Indian Ocean. Think of a gyre as a huge tornado of currents that pulls in the plastic aimlessly floating around. Plastics in our oceans harm wildlife and are susceptible to removal by animal consumption. Laysan albatross are attracted to colorful plastic pieces that look like small fish and sea turtles may confuse a plastic bag with a tasty jellyfish. Not only do marine animals have to watch out for plastics they can see, but an even more substantial issue is the plastic they can’t see. Plastic never REALLY goes away. It’s so efficient in its construction that it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never actually biodegrades. Instead, it becomes microplastic. Small enough to integrate into schools of phytoplankton and krill, microplastics then become a part of one of the largest part of the ocean’s food chain and are ingested by whales and other marine wildlife.
Such a huge problem seems like it can never be solved, but that is not the case. By taking action and making small choices in your everyday life YOU can be a part of the solution! Use a reusable shopping bag and water bottle, politely decline straws and drink lids, and buying products that don’t contain microbeads are easy, everyday choices all of us can make that add up to big solution.
The Houston Zoo wants to be a part of the solution. Next time you visit the Zoo gift shop bring your own resuable bag, buy one of the reusable options if you don’t already have one, or decline the use of a bag completely. Thank you for taking action and helping save wildlife.