Roughly 8.4 tonnes of plastic enters our marine environment from land-based sources globally each year.
Marine wildlife interacts with this debris, including almost half of all marine mammal and seabird species, such as seals and penguins, and over 85% of sea turtles. It is expected that by 2050, nearly all seabird species will be impacted by marine debris in some way.
Seal Rocks, just off the coast of Phillip Island is home to Australia's largest colony of Australian fur seals, supporting an estimated 30,000 individuals. Seal Rocks is an important breeding ground, with pups born during November and December and nursing from their mothers for 10–12 months. Marine debris poses a significant threat to seals, particularly pups and juveniles which are very playful and inquisitive.
Seals may accidentally become entangled by swimming into unseen material, or through misadventure or investigative behaviour. Seals are not usually able to remove entanglement and over time, entanglements become tighter and tighter, cutting through skin and often embedding in the skin. Unfortunately, these marine debris entanglements are often fatal, causing starvation, infections, strangulations, drowning, increased vulnerability to predators or a combination of effects.
Phillip Island Nature Parks research scientists visit Seal Rocks several times throughout the year to check seals for entanglements. Every effort is made to temporarily catch the entangled seals and free them from the debris, effectively saving their lives. So far, the team has been able to successfully remove between 20% - 100% of entanglements each visit.
The Penguin Foundation aims to fund further trips to Seal Rocks, so the research team can save more seals from marine debris entanglements.