By: Rachel Rainbolt, CROW Education & Development Manager
From health and safety to technology and transportation, plastics are responsible for countless advancements in modern-day society. Although this synthetic material has added comfort and convenience, the reality is that our culture has developed an overdependence on single-use products. According to the Ocean Conservancy, “Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use.”
Although these types of products are “single use”, it doesn’t mean they are easily disposable. Once discarded, trash and other waste items from land often end up in our waterways, resulting in negative impacts for animal health, human health and the economy. Plastic debris in the environment is a global concern is because it never truly decomposes; it breaks up over a long period of time, resulting in undue stress on our natural world:
- Habitat Destruction: Waste builds up on beaches, along shorelines and in wetlands, making them uninhabitable for wildlife.
- Ingestion/Entanglement: Plastic can resemble natural prey items for wildlife, causing unintentional ingestion or entanglement. Migratory birds, like Osprey who regularly nest on the beaches of Southwest Florida, will often collect items from the shore and bring it back to their nests during breeding season, thus injuring juveniles.
- Bioaccumulation: Toxic additives in plastics to maintain certain properties can build up in the food web, starting with plankton, fish and small invertebrates.
Of the estimated 150 million metric tons of plastic that has been introduced into our waterways, 80% originates from inland sources. This means that the future of plastics in our waterways depends on how we handle plastics on land now! Trash on the beaches is harmful for tourism and local businesses, and emerging studies support the concept that residual chemicals in plastics can pass to apex predators, many who serve as food sources for humans. Negative impacts from plastic pollution is not solely limited to wildlife, so it is our responsibility as stewards for this earth to encourage sustainable practices.
Thanks to a partnership with LCEC, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) was able to debut a new interactive exhibit focusing exclusively on short-term and long-term effects of plastic pollution in the environment. Interpretive signage discusses the most common examples of single-use products, and an adjacent water bottle refilling station promotes reusable drinking containers.
CROW’s Visitor Education Center, located at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road, is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm. Bring out your family and friends to see the new exhibit along with the other great exhibits for wildlife enthusiasts of all ages.