When you toss that empty bottle on the ground or you neglect to spend the extra 20 seconds it would take to cut up the six pack plastic wrap, or you don’t secure that plastic grocery bag that ends up in our local waters, or you celebrate your special event releasing balloons into the sky, do you consider the danger to birds, mammals and other animals?
What you should know.
While three of the four examples mentioned above are illegal and considered littering, all four present potential risks to wildlife. What we consider harmless or don’t consider at all, appears to animals as something to eat or a play toy, with often fatal consequences.
Most of us are well aware that littering is not good for the environment and illegal. But did you know that CT passed legislation making it illegal to release more than 9 lighter than air balloons (even the biodegradable ones) within a 24 hour period? Even balloons released over land can easily catch the wind and end up in Long Island Sound and other water areas, so Connecticut and other states have passed legislation to help protect our marine life, especially turtles.
Also, most waterways have currents and these currents tend to pool items such as Styrofoam popcorn, plastic bags, balloons, discarded bottles, etc. – so even the seemingly most insignificant debris can become a major problem.
Finally, animals are driven by basic needs – food is a major consideration for all animals. Food remnants will cause an animal to poke its head into a yogurt container where it may potentially get stuck, probably resulting in injury, starvation, dehydration and death.
The photo from Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (www.medasset.org) presents a realistic comparison between our misplaced plastic grocery bags and jellyfish, the sea turtles favorite food – to the turtle coming up to feed, there is very little difference between the two. Once ingested, the turtle will inevitably suffer a horrible death (suffocation, starvation) unless someone is there to intervene in time – which is a rare occurrence.
The second photo included with this blog illustrates several results of human carelessness. Facebook’s “Come On The Peace Train, 1 million members needed” has captured some horrific images, but these represent few of the vast number of injuries and deaths our trash causes due to improper disposal.
What can you do to help?
Actually, it is simple, but it requires a change in behavior – are you willing to join us to help preserve our environment and our wild neighbors – both marine and terrestrial?
Four and six-pack plastic wrap: Be sure to cut all rings, leaving no loops that could potentially pose a threat to an unsuspecting animal. Rubber bands and ribbons fall into this category too.
Balloons: Don’t release balloons into the air – again they look like food to a turtle when they end up in our water ways.
Plastic Grocery bags: Refrain from using plastic grocery bags – bring your own reusable bags when you shop. When boating or at the beach, make sure your plastic bags are secured so they do not end up in our waters.
Styrofoam popcorn: Refrain from using this form of packing material if possible, as it presents a threat to our marine animals and is often found on our beaches.
Soda/beer cans: Squash these prior to disposal – this will alleviate the potential for any animal to poke its head inside. This is especially important in settings such as state parks where garbage tends to overflow at busy times.
Litter on the roadways: Litter is bad…period. However, litter on our roadways attracts animals, putting them in harms way.
Plastic (polystyrene) balls and plastic buoys: Avoid using these as birds often confuse them with fish eggs and crustaceans, which can poison or block their gastrointestinal tract, and cause starvation.
Plastic garbage: Whales (Humpback, Southern Right and Blue Whales) take big gulps of water to feed on krill that they filter through their baleen. If the water they ingest contains plastic containers, bags, etc., the plastic stays in their gut affecting food digestion, usually resulting in a slow death.
Fishing lines, ropes, nets: Turtles, waterfowl, whales (almost no animal is immune) become entangled which restricts movement and often leads to starvation, infection, amputation and drowning. Don’t leave your fishing equipment behind after your activities.
Fish hooks and lead tackle: When left behind, both of these items can present a danger to animals – especially if the fish hook has bait still attached.
Antifreeze and other toxic waste: Proper disposal is essential; animals can be harmed. For example, the sweet odor of antifreeze is inviting to animals – once consumed the animal faces certain death.
Yogurt containers: Yogurt containers need to be crushed, especially those that have an odd shape which in turn creates problems for innocent animals searching for leftover food. If a head gets stuck, the animal may be unable to remove the container from its head, causing unnecessary suffering.
Glass bottles and jars: These items should be disposed of properly – never smashed. Humans and animals alike can be injured, but the animal cannot ask for help. Jars should be emptied of all contents so animals are not curious about the contents, and jar covers should be replaced.
Our wild neighbors are not familiar with manmade products, many of which are either not biodegradable or take years to degrade. Please be aware of your actions and commit to helping to protect our environment and our wildlife. We can all participate in alleviating unnecessary suffering and death by modifying our behavior.
If you would like to learn more about conservation and recreation you can visit Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.