Marium's death a timely warning
Many people may not care about the tragic death of Marium, an eight-month-old orphaned baby dugong. Marium died on Saturday from an infection exacerbated by bits of plastic lining her stomach. She was found beached in Krabi province in April, rescued and then treated by veterinarians of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources with the hope that, one day, when she was strong enough, she would be able to return to the wild to be with the other dugongs in the sea around Libong island in Trang province.
But there are many others who did care for her when she was still alive undergoing treatment and rehabilitation. And they not only mourned her premature death but are also taking action to make sure that her death and the fatalities of several other endangered marine species such as whales and sea turtles from plastic waste will not be repeated. Or at least ensure that fewer of them will be found washed ashore in Thailand, dead or struggling to stay alive with their stomachs filled with plastic.
The current actions taken by the government and the private sector to reduce single-use plastic bags are too little too late to deal with the problem of plastic waste in the environment, especially in the seas, which seems to be worsening as testified by the increasing number of endangered marine species washed ashore in coastal provinces in Thailand in recent years.
The 100 million single-use plastic bags which have been spared use since the launch of a voluntary campaign this year by the private sector, including shopping malls and convenience chain stores, are just the tip of the iceberg of the actual number of the plastic bags being dumped in the environment.
Thailand is the world's sixth-worst contributor to marine debris and the fourth worst in Asean after Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. About 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced each year. This is something we should be ashamed of.
Plastic waste in the sea is not only a threat to big marine species such as whales, sea turtles and dugongs. It is also a threat to humankind in the long run.
We all know that a single piece of plastic can take more than 500 years to degrade. But before a plastic piece degrades, it breaks up into tiny and invisible microplastics which are reportedly found everywhere in the world's oceans and seas. Samples taken from the sea and observed through strong magnifying devices show the presence of this microplastic. Although we do not know much about its effects on humans, it is definitely not healthy for it to accumulate in the body.
According to a report from ScienceAlert, a leading online scientific publisher, a few days ago, a team of researchers from the US Geological Survey found something they didn't expect while analysing rainwater samples -- plastic.
The team said that plastics were identified in over 90% of the rainwater samples they took at eight different sites, most of which were between Denver and Boulder, Colorado.
USGS research chemist Gregory Wetherbee was quoted by The Guardian as saying: "I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is there is more plastic out there than meets the eye. It's in the rain, it's in the snow. It's a part of our environment now."
So, plastic is a global problem like global warming. The government must do its part without waiting to be prodded by the United Nations by being more serious about reducing single-use plastic bag waste and taking more substantive action instead of relying on voluntary initiatives by the private sector.
Marium should not have to die in vain. Her untimely demise should inspire us to do something immediately and willingly -- that is to substantially reduce the use of single-use plastic bags or to stop using them at all and to switch to other bags for our own sake and that of our children, grandchildren and those yet to be born.
Do we want them to live in an environment which is filled with plastic waste?
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.