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KARACHI: How uncontrolled dumping of plastic products in marine environment is playing havoc with animal and plant life was recently indicated when a turtle of an endangered species entangled in a plastic bag was rescued, World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan officials said on Wednesday.

According to the WWF-P, plastic pollution has become a serious threat to marine life and there is an immediate need to create awareness of the hazards of unsafe disposal of waste, especially plastic material, that often result in death of marine animals.

“I was on a tuna fishing boat operating 180 nautical miles from Karachi when I spotted a floating polypropylene woven bag, possibly discarded by some merchant ship. We decided to retrieve the bag and, to our utter surprise, we found an Olive ridley turtle fully entangled in the bag,” Amir Rahim, a WWF-P trained observer travelling on the vessel said.

Finding it hard to get the animal free in the water, the staff later pulled the turtle inside the boat, carefully cut the plastic bag and released it back into the sea, he said.

Amir Rahim said he had seen many turtles entangled in floating fishing nets but this was the first time he saw a marine turtle entrapped in a floating bag.

“Fishermen and other seafarers need to be educated about the hazards of throwing plastic stuff into the sea as it may kill a marine animal,” he said.

Highlighting the severity of plastic pollution, WWF-P technical adviser on marine fisheries Mohammad Moazzam Khan said that even remote beaches along Pakistan coast, including Kund Malir, were now found littered with pieces of plastic.

“Commercial boats and merchant ships also contribute to this menace. Floating plastic is mistaken as food by animals that in most cases have serious and deadly consequences,” he said.

High concentrations of plastic material, particularly plastic bags, blocked the breathing passage and stomach of marine species, including whales, dolphins, seals, puffins and turtles, and caused their death.

WWF-P senior director of biodiversity Rab Nawaz underlined the need to curb dumping of solid waste, especially plastic in the sea, as most of these materials took a long time for degradation.

“There is a need to control disposal of solid waste and to undertake regular cleaning operations of beaches to remove accumulated plastic,” he added

With solid garbage that flows down to the coastline and makes its way to the ocean, fishermen, too, contribute to pollution by dumping an estimated 150,000 tonnes of plastic stuff into the ocean each year, say WWF-P officials.

According to another estimate about 8,000 tonnes of solid waste mainly consisting of plastic is unaccounted for in Karachi, most of which ends up in the sea around Karachi.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2016