The Scope

Video: The moment plastic enters the marine food chain

A scientist has filmed plankton ingesting plastic microfibre, that can be passed up the food chain and become toxic to humans.

One of the biggest global environmental problems right now is that millions of tons of plastic waste are being dumped in our oceans. Plastics take thousands of years to decay and marine animals and birds that ingest these materials often get intoxicated and die. But these plastics also pose a significant threat to human health as they are passed up the food chain.

Plastics contain lead, cadmium, and mercury that are toxic to humans and these toxins have already been found in fish in the ocean. Some plastic also contain diethylhexyl phthalate, which is a carcinogen. Many toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems and childhood developmental issues. Plastics also act like sponges and soak up other toxins that might be floating in the ocean and carry them through the food chain as well.

A scientist has now filmed one exact moment when plastic in the ocean enters the food chain. Dr Richard Kirby who studies planktons has recorded a tiny arrow worm ingesting plastic microfibre. Speaking to the BBC, Kirby observed how the fibre makes a loop inside the animals body and blocks anything from moving down the animals gut below its head. He said that although this is the first time the action has been filmed, the sight of plankton ingested plastic is disturbingly common.

Researchers have documented the growth of islands of plastic in the middle of oceans and conducted post-mortems on whales, seals and birds to find large plastic bags and bottles in their stomachs. But a large part of plastic pollution is in the form of microplastics – either particles left behind in the ocean when larger plastic materials break down over time or from tiny objects like microbeads from shower gels that get flushed into water bodies. The United Nations estimates that there are about 51 trillion particles of microplastic are in the world’s seas and oceans.

Other researchers have also demonstrated that zooplankton do indeed ingest microbeads, that the microbeads ingest in their digestive tracts giving chemicals present in the microbeads plenty of time to enter the tissues of animals and, subsequently enter the systems of larger animals that consume them.

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Virat Kohli and Ola come together to improve Delhi's air quality

The onus of curbing air-pollution is on citizens as well

A recent study by The Lancet Journal revealed that outdoor pollution was responsible for 6% of the total disease burden in India in 2016. As a thick smog hangs low over Delhi, leaving its residents gasping for air, the pressure is on the government to implement SOS measures to curb the issue as well as introduce long-term measures to improve the air quality of the state. Other major cities like Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata should also acknowledge the gravitas of the situation.

The urgency of the air-pollution crisis in the country’s capital is being reflected on social media as well. A recent tweet by Virat Kohli, Captain of the Indian Cricket Team, urged his fans to do their bit in helping the city fight pollution. Along with the tweet, Kohli shared a video in which he emphasized that curbing pollution is everyone’s responsibility. Apart from advocating collective effort, Virat Kohli’s tweet also urged people to use buses, metros and Ola share to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

In the spirit of sharing the responsibility, ride sharing app Ola responded with the following tweet.

To demonstrate its commitment to fight the problem of vehicular pollution and congestion, Ola is launching #ShareWednesdays : For every ​new user who switches to #OlaShare in Delhi, their ride will be free. The offer by Ola that encourages people to share resources serves as an example of mobility solutions that can reduce the damage done by vehicular pollution. This is the fourth leg of Ola’s year-long campaign, #FarakPadtaHai, to raise awareness for congestion and pollution issues and encourage the uptake of shared mobility.

In 2016, WHO disclosed 10 Indian cities that made it on the list of worlds’ most polluted. The situation necessitates us to draw from experiences and best practices around the world to keep a check on air-pollution. For instance, a system of congestion fees which drivers have to pay when entering central urban areas was introduced in Singapore, Oslo and London and has been effective in reducing vehicular-pollution. The concept of “high occupancy vehicle” or car-pool lane, implemented extensively across the US, functions on the principle of moving more people in fewer cars, thereby reducing congestion. The use of public transport to reduce air-pollution is another widely accepted solution resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. Many communities across the world are embracing a culture of sustainable transportation by investing in bike lanes and maintenance of public transport. Even large corporations are doing their bit to reduce vehicular pollution. For instance, as a participant of the Voluntary Traffic Demand Management project in Beijing, Lenovo encourages its employees to adopt green commuting like biking, carpooling or even working from home. 18 companies in Sao Paulo executed a pilot program aimed at reducing congestion by helping people explore options such as staggering their hours, telecommuting or carpooling. After the pilot, drive-alone rates dropped from 45-51% to 27-35%.

It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that the growth of a country doesn’t compromise the natural environment that sustains it, however, a substantial amount of responsibility also lies on each citizen to lead an environment-friendly lifestyle. Simple lifestyle changes such as being cautious about usage of electricity, using public transport, or choosing locally sourced food can help reduce your carbon footprint, the collective impact of which is great for the environment.

Ola is committed to reducing the impact of vehicular pollution on the environment by enabling and encouraging shared rides and greener mobility. They have also created flat fare zones across Delhi-NCR on Ola Share to make more environment friendly shared rides also more pocket-friendly. To ensure a larger impact, the company also took up initiatives with City Traffic Police departments, colleges, corporate parks and metro rail stations.

Join the fight against air-pollution by using the hashtag #FarakPadtaHai and download Ola to share your next ride.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Ola and not by the Scroll editorial team.