By Scott Terwilliger and Jawad Hossain
Over 15,000 pounds of debris, along with various plastics were collected last year on Long Island shores according to American Littoral Society Northeast’s latest report accessed by The Osprey in late February 2019.
Sea turtles ingest plastic bags, which can create intestinal problems, Don Riepe, the director of the American Littoral Society, says.
“Sea turtles eat balloons and plastic bags because they mistake them for jellyfish,” Riepe, who has coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup for the state of New York for more than 30 years, said. Volunteers for the Cleanup in 2018 collected 2,894 plastic bags on Long Island.
Plastic endangers seals and sea turtles. More than 100,000 marine mammals die every year from debris, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Materials like fishing lines and netting can entangle seals, which is fatal in some cases, and sea turtles may mistake plastic bags as food and ingest them.
For the eighth consecutive year, Dr. Arthur Kopelman, president of Coastal Research and Education Society on Long Island (CRESLI), has observed strangled seals. Looped plastics like netting pose the most risk to seals, as they can lead to entanglement. There were 10,759 plastic pieces collected on Long Island, with 381 being fishing nets.
At the current rate of plastic pollution, oceans will contain more plastic than fish in weight by 2050, revealed a 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and The World Economic Forum.
“Combined sewer systems were a big problem,” Lawrence Cahoon, a professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, said. “Storm sewers now are separate and represent a drainage and collection system that is able to reroute rainwater and sewage.
Storm sewers contribute to pollution of plastics on shores and in oceans. Some beaches may even wash up biohazards like syringes or needles.
Numerous areas across Long Island have taken steps to limit plastic pollution. Suffolk County imposed a five-cent fee on plastic bags last January to encourage the use of reusable bag. This February, East Hampton passed a ban to prevent people from intentionally releasing balloons.
Politicians in the Single-Use Plastic Reduction Task Force proposed new bills this month to reduce straws and polystyrene products. With the approval from the Legislature, the polystyrene ban could be introduced in as soon as three months.
“Working to reduce single-use plastics for marine life is important because what happens is it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces,” Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, who leads the Task Force, said.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) in Farmingdale encourages people to use reusable and biodegradable items such as bamboo straws instead of plastic alternatives.
“All the plastics used in a day don’t disappear from the environment,” Jordan Christensen, Program Coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said. “They get drained into estuaries and create toxins that end up returning to our dinner plate. It’s a human health issue.”