Tasmania is home to one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine environments.
Surrounded by water, this unique island state features stretches of spectacular coastline, remarkable reserves and magnificent marine life.
But for how long?
This is the question being asked by conservationists researching the impacts of plastic products on the state’s marine habitats.
While plastic pollution is considered to be a global issue, its local impacts will be highlighted in Tasmania this week through The Marine Conservation Film Series, which is hosted by the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies and the Wilderness Society of Tasmania.
Oceanographer and IMAS lecturer in marine conservation Dr Andrew Fischer said the series had been focused on educating Tasmanians about the importance of maintaining marine ecosystems.
As part of the final event in the series, the feature-length film A Plastic Ocean will be showcased in Launceston on Thursday.
“[The film] highlights the pervasiveness of plastic debris in the marine environment,” Dr Fischer said.
“In the far reaches of the world, where there are no humans, plastic debris can be found, under the Arctic ice cap and remote Pacific islands.
“True change comes from individual actions and I think [the film] will make people think twice, before they purchase an item that has been packed in plastic.”
During the filming of A Plastic Ocean, researchers spent four years exploring 20 locations worldwide, attempting to uncover the true impact of what they describe as a “global disposable lifestyle”.
Joining the crew for part of the filming was Marine Biologist Dr Jennifer Lavers.
Dr Lavers, who has been researching marine pollution for almost a decade, travelled to two locations with the documentary crew including Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea and Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean.
Her work on the film was part of her core research into the impact of plastics on marine life, particularly seabirds such as Australia’s flesh-footed shearwater .
Through this research, Dr Lavers said she had discovered between 85 and 100 per cent of shearwaters were ingesting plastic every year with up to 280 pieces of plastic found in individual birds.
“It’s not just the effects on humans or the aesthetic issues around pollution on our beaches that’s the issue, it’s what’s actually happening to our marine wildlife and how many species are being impacted as a result,” Dr Lavers said.
“The film really highlights the global story of our pollution problem, which is seeing some of Australia’s most iconic species significantly impacted.”
A Tasmanian conservation group has also raised concerns about the threat to seabirds and the impacts of plastic pollution.
BirdLife Tasmania convenor Dr Eric Woehler made a submission in 2015 on behalf of BirdLife Australia to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications Inquiry into “the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia”.
Within the submission, he suggested there was “a significant gap in our knowledge of the threats to shorebirds from marine microplastics”.
Microplastics, such as microbeads used in cosmetics, are said to be an “invisible threat” due to their minute size.
Dr Woehler said while microplastics were just one aspect of the plastic pollution issue, it was something that had not previously been highlighted.
“We’re seeing an increase in the use of microplastics in cosmetics and because this stuff is so small, its essentially invisible,” he said.
“Everyone has previously focused on larger macroplastics, but there is now a push to ban micro beads and other microplastics, because of their pervasive nature. So we’re starting to gain a bit of momentum.”
Since the senate inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution, Dr Woehler and BirdLife Tasmania volunteers have launched a pilot study into the presence of microplastics in Tasmania.
“We are starting to characterise where we are seeing microplastics and how it relates to the distribution of birds around Tasmania,” he said.
“Microplastics are now becoming part of the conversation, along with macroplastics, because between the two of them, they’re posing a significant risk to our marine environment.”
Although committed conservation groups like BirdLife Tasmania continue to campaign on the issue of plastic pollution, Tasmanian Greens senator Peter-Whish Wilson said “not enough” was being done at a political level.
In 2013, the Greens introduced a “single use plastic bag ban” in Tasmania which saw locals forced to purchase reusable bags.
Despite the statewide movement, an international report on marine pollution released by the world economic forum this year revealed there would be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans within 30 years.
“We need to go further with more policies to remove or reduce the sources of plastic that are turning our oceans into a toxic tide,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.
“We need to act now.”
A Plastic Ocean will be shown at Saint John Craft Beer Bar, Launceston on Thursday October 6.
More information here.