On Monday (May 28), a pilot whale was spotted struggling to swim in Na Thap Canal in southern Thailand, The Nation reported, citing a post on the Marine and Coastal Resources Department Facebook page. Though officials attempted to save the animal, using two boats to help the whale float and even erecting a sunshade over it, it died on Friday.
In its last, futile fight for survival, the whale vomited five plastic bags. An autopsy uncovered 80 plastic bags weighing 8 kg in total in the whale’s stomach.
The animal’s death is a shocking reminder of Asia’s ocean pollution problem. According to a 2015 report by Ocean Conservancy, just five Asian countries – Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, China and the Philippines – account for more than half of the plastic that gets washed into the ocean worldwide. All five countries have benefitted from impressive growth in recent years. However, the new prosperity has come hand-in-hand with an increase in demand for consumer products – something the countries’ existing waste-management systems are unable to cope with.
According to Ocean Conservancy, approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually, the equivalent of dumping one New York City garbage truck’s worth of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for a year.
The impact of large pieces of plastic has been well documented, as IUCN highlights in a report, citing several other sources. Not only does it negatively impact wildlife, which may ingest or become entangled in it, the plastic is also an economic burden, affecting tourism and maritime industries.
Microplastics – miniscule pieces of plastic that either enter the ocean directly as a component of items such as toiletries or result from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic – may present another problem, as their ability to absorb toxins and readily enter the foodchain have raised concerns about their potential impact on human health.
Asian nations have been making an effort to tackle the growing threat. Vietnam will be joining hands with its international partners to combat its plastic pollution problem, the Vietnam News reported. The nation has already taken steps towards dealing with the issue, including bettering its capacity in sorting, collecting and treating plastic waste and improving public awareness on plastic use Deputy minister of Natural Resources and Environment Lê Công Thành said, according to Vietnam News.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, popular tourist destination Boracay is currently undergoing a six- month cleanup in order to address a range of environmental issues, including the poor management of sewage and other waste.
In Thailand, every ministry has agreed to cut down on the use of plastic in line with a pledge made by the Thai government on World Environment day on May 5, the Nation reported. A “Public Private Partnership for Sustainable Plastic and Waste Management” was also recently launched with the aim of halving the country’s plastic waste by 2027.
Commenting on the death of the pilot whale in its June 6 editorial, the Nation said, “The death of the pilot whale should force us to take a good look at ourselves and at our behaviour on this planet we share…By killing the whales, we end up killing ourselves along the way. And when we pollute the oceans, we pollute the fish we eat.”