The amount of plastic floating in the Tasman sea continues to be as unpredictable as it is dangerous, according to a leading marine science researcher at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.
Dr Jennifer Lavers has spent the last 15 years researching the impact of plastic pollution in the ocean on marine and bird-life and said 2021 was one of the worst years her team had ever seen.
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"It's been a long time since we've had one that bad," she said. "I couldn't have predicted that. We are at the mercy of Mother Nature now, and we always have been, but certainly now more so than ever."
Dr Lavers and her team work on remote islands around the world, and she has recently returned from their base on Lord Howe Island about 600km east of Port Macquarie in NSW and just over 1500km northeast of Launceston.
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To get a read on the amount of plastic in the ocean Dr Lavers and her team use birds as indicators which are used to make sense of a larger scheme of plastic pollutants.
In her 15 years surveying the amount of plastic in the ocean Dr Lavers has experienced an obvious decline in the health of these birds but has seen how attention to the problem can bring about policy change and awareness.
She said despite the change and approach to the problem, it was as significant as ever.
"You would think we've had a lot of policy come into play at the international level and those policies have had some time to have a positive impact in the amount of single-use plastics and even the way we as a society think about and use plastic," she said.
"A lot of time has passed so you'd hope the amount of plastic in the ocean would actually be decreasing and that might be reflected in our wildlife, but that doesn't actually seem to be the case."
Dr Lavers said ongoing dilemmas included whether the transition to biodegradable and compostable products had made an impact or not, the way to communicate the gravity of the issue to the broader world and getting people to understand the issue at hand.
She is delivering a public lecture at QVMAG Inveresk on May 23 where she hopes to discuss her research as well as showcase the strength Australian science and scientists. More information is available at rst.org.au.
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