UN report identifies migratory species as most vulnerable to plastic pollution

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Aug 31, 2021, 10:43 PM IST


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The study used case studies from the Ganges and Mekong river basins, whose combined pollution contributes more than 200,000 tonnes per year to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean

In a study released on Tuesday, the UN's Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) said migratory species are likely to be hit hardest by plastic pollution.

It was the first study to examine the impacts that plastic pollution has on animals living on land and in freshwater environments in Asia-Pacific.

Case studies of the Ganges and Mekong river basins were used for the study. These two river basins together contribute more than 200,000 tonnes of plastic pollution per year to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

However, not all plastic pollution ends up in the ocean. According to the study, freshwater and terrestrial species, as well as birds and land animals, are impacted by plastic pollution in river ecosystems and on land.

The presence of plastic waste in freshwater can cause air-breathing mammals to drown since entanglement in the waste can prevent them from reaching the surface.

Species like Ganges River Dolphins and Mekong river's Irrawaddy Dolphins, both of which are classified as Endangered on the IUCN red list are especially vulnerable.

Another marine mammal classified endangered by CMS in the Asia-Pacific region is the Dugong, for which drowning due to entanglement in nets has been shown to be the most significant threat, including in river deltas.

Dugong deaths have also been linked to plastic consumption in India and Thailand.

Most plastic is used and disposed of on land, yet the majority of research on plastic pollution has been conducted on marine ecosystems, whereas terrestrial environments were exceedingly underrepresented in the collection of plastic pollution data.

Plastic ingestion negatively impacts a broad variety of land animals as well.

The Asian elephant which is protected under the CMS since 2020, has been observed eating plastic in Thailand and scavenging on trash dumps in Sri Lanka.

In the Asia-Pacific region, birds account for almost 80 per cent of the CMS-listed species, and there is significant evidence of their interaction with plastics.

A number of species of migratory birds, including the black-faced spoonbill and the osprey, have been observed building nests from plastic, fishing lines, and shipping debris, which often causes chicks to become entangled and perish.

CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel said: "Since most plastic pollution is generated on land, it is unfortunately not surprising that it is impacting migratory and other animal species that live on land and in freshwater environments.

"Clearly, we have huge gaps in the scientific literature of the threats of plastic pollution on many CMS species. We need more research to better identify risks to these species, and take appropriate steps to address them."

(With inputs from agencies)