Despite humans creating islands of garbage in the ocean, Nature has found a way to adapt. The United Nations Environment Program has estimated that there are about 119,600 pieces of plastic in every square kilometre of the sea. There are 18 million tonnes of plastic in the Pacific Ocean alone and the biggest island of trash is roughly the size of Texas. However, scientists have found never-before-seen microbes that are helping break down the plastic and cleaning the seas. Gulf News asked its readers whether human ignorance is causing evolutionary change to marine life and if pollution is eventually going to make the planet unrecognisable.
I am not surprised that bacteria or other organisms have adapted to human pollution, specifically to plastic pollution. There are many examples of microbes that can process a wide variety of pollutants, including synthetic compounds. Evolutionary change is a slow process and we are still a long way from hoping that bacteria will rapidly evolve to help in ‘cleaning’ up the oceans. Additionally, pollution has already made the planet unrecognisable and natural systems are unable to cope with the rate at which we are polluting the environment. We cannot hope that this study will suddenly solve our problems. We must launch an aggressive campaign to reduce pollution from all sources. This has not occurred so far at the level needed for natural systems to cope. We need to globally respond to environmental hazards by designing more efficient structures, reduce waste during development and change our attitudes towards development. To put it simply, if you build a skyscraper, you might have to destroy an entire ecosystem to do so. After that, if you put a sign up saying ‘go green’ and recycle paper, that could not possibly justify the destruction of an ecosystem. We must therefore develop a better understanding of the world we live in, then plan and develop systematically to achieve some sort of balance with the natural world. This is happening very slowly.
From Dr Sabir Bin Muzaffar
Bangladeshi assistant professor of biology at UAE University
The presence of plastic-degrading microbes on an isolated garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean does not give us an excuse to pollute the environment. Even though the findings about the ‘garbage eaters’ is good news, we can’t ignore the fact that fish in the Pacific Ocean ingest about 12,000 to 24,000 tonnes of plastic per year, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based in the US. We also need to keep in mind the fatalities caused to other marine animals, especially to the cetaceans (marine mammals) and even the birds. Yes, of course we are changing the face of Earth by pollution. It is estimated by the World Resources Institute, based in the US, that 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will be at risk by 2030 due to human activities. It’s not just affecting the reefs — we’ve already left our carbon footprint everywhere. The only solution now is to choose the best or most suitable and sustainable way of living.
Indian marine biologist based in Muscat, Oman
When we do not have anyone taking care of us, we learn to take care of ourselves. In the same way, human ignorance has forced Mother Nature to do the same. Modernisation and technology has had an impact on almost everything. We have solutions to all questions in just seconds. But when it comes down to the environment, people tend to be ignorant. It is sad that there are islands of garbage, such as the Great Pacific Garbage patch, which is roughly the size of Texas, polluting our beautiful environment. For years, people have thrown plastic on the street and in the seas and rivers without thinking of the consequences. Plastic is a non-biodegradable object and causes severe harm to our surroundings. According to the latest research, a new group of microbes is helping in the decomposition of plastic by feeding on it, just to enter the guts of fish. But we are not sure whether they are harmful to us, let alone the marine creatures, as they even excrete carbon. This should not give anyone the right to turn a blind eye towards the disadvantages of throwing more plastic into the sea, thinking it will meet its end for good, as it will not vanish in seconds. Would you be okay having a small patch of garbage in your living room and let it stay there for years, thinking it will decompose, rather than immediately finding a more productive use for it? I think not. We should not let go off our responsibilities, assuming that Nature will rectify the alarming disasters created by mankind.
Indian student and member of Emirates Environmental Group based in Dubai
I agree that human ignorance is causing evolutionary change to marine life and the environment as a whole, but that is not something new, rather it has been going on for decades. Therefore, I am not surprised that Nature has found a way of making up for human ignorance. We live in a self-correcting environment and due to that, we tend to take Nature for granted and expect it to deal with our mistakes. Pollution has already made our planet unrecognisable and it is going to continue to do so. There are all these environmental talks by world leaders and groups all around the world, but it is one thing to talk about doing something, and another to actually do something. It is as if we are feeding our egos when we talk about saving the planet, but the truth is that the damage is already done. Unless all citizens of the world deal with this now, there’s no point in holding all these useless talks about saving the planet, because the truth is that we are the ones who brought this upon ourselves. Yet, we cannot admit it, and therefore it feels better to leave it and let Nature heal itself.
From Mr Mustafa Al Zubaidi
Iraqi medical student based in Gdansk, Poland
I’m shocked to know that human selfishness has reached such an extent and that we are so ignorant, we are fine with knowing that there is so much garbage piling up and causing damage to our planet. We are the main cause for the environmental change that our planet is going through, yet instead of trying to stop it, we only add to it. At the end of the day, human beings are selfish and we have and will always expect others to deal with our mess, not only when it comes to pollution but also in our daily lives. We prefer to leave our problems for others to solve, which may be fine when it comes to minor things in life, but in terms of saving our planet, it is not. It is never too late to make a change, but it is not enough for you and I to make a change, because it must be done on a larger scale.
Lebanese pharmacist based in Malmo, Sweden