22 January 2020
Craig Leeson created a documentary to warn about the threat posed by plastics pollution in the seas. Photo: David Jones / Craig Leeson
Craig Leeson created a documentary to warn about the threat posed by plastics pollution in the seas. Photo: David Jones / Craig Leeson

Documentary sounds fresh warning on ocean plastic pollution

Craig Leeson, a veteran journalist, has just finished filming a documentary, A Plastic Ocean, which aims to send a powerful message about the need to stop plastics pollution and alter our disposable lifestyle.

Due to the proliferation of plastic products in the last 70 years, plastics have penetrated every aspect of our lives. Nearly 300 million tons are being produced every year, with half of the items used just once and thrown away.

More than eight million tons of plastics go into the oceans every year, and its impact on humans and animal life is catastrophic.

The filming of the documentary was first initiated by producer Jo Ruxton, who had joined a scientific expedition seven years ago to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the North Pacific Gyre.

Jo was dismayed as she learnt that plastics break up into tiny pieces and get mixed with plankton, the base of the whole marine food chain.

Shocked at what she had discovered, Ruxton decided to work on a documentary which tells the real story of plastic pollution. And Leeson was invited on board.

If it was happening in one gyre, it might be happening in all of them, they suspected.

Colorful plastic particulates, attached with marine organisms as well as toxins, are consumed by fish, birds, and even plankton, by mistake. The toxins pass down in the food chain and are stored in animals’ fatty tissues, which are eventually taken in by the top-level consumers – the humans.

The most shocking scene in Leeson’s view was a huge number of sea birds lying dead on a beach on an island that is among the UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.

Over 200 pieces of plastics were found in a bird’s stomach, Leeson and the researchers found.

The reason was that the birds mistook plastics for food and fed them to their young ones. The digestive tracts of the birds were damaged by sharp plastic pieces and eventually caused their deaths.

Leeson said he felt guilty as he himself might have used such plastic products.

The production team visited over 20 locations. In Manila, some extremely poor families were living on a garbage hill, growing vegetables atop toxic mounds.

We believe that plastics can be disposed, but the reality is different, Leeson says.

Plastics are not degradable and won’t vanish from the Earth. Its transformation would cause even more toxins in our environment, he notes.

He calls for responsible recycling of plastics, pointing the need for governments and people to join hands and take necessary action to save the world.

Leeson believes the task is achievable. He cites the success of Germany, where 90 percent of plastics are recycled.

Plastics manufacturers must be made to pay for the recycling efforts, he says.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 29.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Leeson, a veteran journalist and professional diver, found that many birds and fish die as they inadvertently feed on plastics. Photo: Craig Leeson /HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal