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Plastic pollution: An increasing threat to marine life in Pakistan

Posted on 14 October 2017

Karachi: In a recent incident, while operating a tuna boat along the Balochistan coast WWF-Pakistan trained skipper Mahar Gul was surprised to find a spot-tail shark (Carcharhinus sorrah) entangled in a polythene bag about 160 nautical miles south of Astola Island on 11 October. The condition of laceration and associated inflammation indicated that the shark became entangled in the bag, which caused its slow mortality.  The spot-tail shark is found in offshore waters and its entanglement shows that plastic pollution is adversely affecting marine life.

While, in another incident, WWF-Pakistan trained fisherman Noor Muhammad reported that plastic strapping encircled a giant catfish (Netuma thallasinus) near its head. The plastic strapping was observed to have penetrated the flesh of the fish that caused severe laceration and inflammation and finally caused the mortality of the catfish. The fist was caught 135 nautical miles southwest of Karachi on 1 October. Fisherman took photographs of the animal and further reported increasing plastic pollution in the offshore waters of Pakistan.

Plastic pollution is posing a serious threat to marine life and its ecosystem. The issue of plastic pollution along Pakistan’s coast is a major concern and is worsening due to an inadequate solid waste disposal system in the city. Most plastics that enter the sea become a serious threat to marine life due to their non-degradable nature. Studies carried out by WWF-Pakistan indicate that the number of incidents of marine animals trapped in plastic products in the sea is very increasing.

It is estimated that globally about 8 million tons of plastics are deliberately dumped in the sea or finds its way there through wind or flow of rivers and urban runoff. This is approximately equivalent to the dumping of a garbage truck into marine waters every minute. According to the statement submitted to Honourable Supreme Court’s Commission on Enquiry by Honourable Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro, Sindh Solid Waste Management Authority (SSWMA), about 12,000 tons of garbage is generated per day in Karachi of which only 40 per cent is collected and taken to dumpsite whereas the remaining garbage mainly reaches different nallas or is burnt locally. Commenting on this, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan said that only a small fraction of garbage is burnt, which has its own environmental consequences but garbage that reaches the ocean consists mainly of non-degradable plastics. He pointed that the entanglement of the giant catfish and spot-tail shark in strapping plastic and in a polythene bag respectively are important evidences that illustrate how plastic pollution is rapidly destroying marine habitats.

WWF-Pakistan studies also reveal that 65 per cent of garbage that litter beaches along Pakistan’s coast consist of plastics, which includes mineral water bottles, caps, polythene bags, balloons, wrappers, shoes, broken utensils, Styrofoam and discarded fishing nets. Khan further pointed out that these plastics are not degradable, and thus devastate life in offshore waters. A number of records are available which also indicate that a variety of marine animals became entangled in floating plastics leading to injury and sometimes death.

According to Dr. Babar Khan, Regional Head Sindh and Balochistan, WWF-Pakistan, plastic waste decomposes very slowly, therefore, it either floats in the open sea or piles up on beaches. Pakistan is no exception to this, as improper dumping of city garbage at unauthorized locations, such as along the shores of Ibrahim Hyderi, Karachi, has resulted in an unprecedented increase in plastic pollution. He further pointed that not only the beaches of Karachi but others such as Kund Malir and Gwadar are also littered with plastic pollution.

Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan urged the local administration to properly remove garbage from the city, adequate disposal at dumpsites and controlling of unauthorized dumping at Ibrahim Hyderi and other parts of the coast. He stressed the need to create awareness among the general public about limiting their use of plastic in daily chores and called for the use of recyclable material. ‘Accumulation of plastic in the ecosystem, especially along the coast and in offshore waters, poses a serious threat to marine biodiversity, hence urgent steps are needed to address this growing issue,’ he added.


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