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At least 18 Galapagos species have been recorded either entangled by plastic, or have been found to have ingested it, including the endangered Galapagos sea lion.

Could Galapagos become plastic pollution free?

There is a growing movement in Galapagos to drastically reduce marine plastic pollution with the aim, one day, of having a plastic-free Galapagos Marine Reserve.

As part of this ambitious programme, Galapagos Conservation Trust has gathered a team of UK marine plastic pollution experts – including researchers from the University of Exeter – local Galapagos agencies and the local community to help the authorities develop a plan that will see Galapagos become a model for the world on how to deal with plastic pollution.

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing issues facing marine wildlife around the world. Whilst the Galapagos Islands remain one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world, they too are under pressure from this growing problem.

At least 18 Galapagos species have been recorded either entangled by plastic, or have been found to have ingested it, including the endangered Galapagos sea lion.

“Pollution from plastic is a truly global problem,” Professor Tamara Galloway, from the University of Exeter.

“Tides and currents can carry pollution across oceans to countries a long distance from where they were originally released. Ideally, any legislation to control them should be on an international level.”

Dr Ceri Lewis added: “Plastic waste is ubiquitous in the oceans, where it can be fragmented into smaller and smaller pieces. We find tiny pieces of plastic in every sample of seawater we study from around the world.

“Our research has shown that many marine animals ingest microplastics, mistaking them for food. They can become lodged in the animal’s gut, and prevent them from eating nutritious food.

“They can also pass chemicals into the animal’s tissues. When these animals are eaten, the microplastics and the chemicals they contain can be passed through the food chain too.”

Adam Porter, also of the University of Exeter, added: “The science and research-informed action planned for the Galapagos is a very welcome step in the right direction.

“The best way to reduce marine pollution and protect marine animals from harm is to stop throwing things into the ocean in the first place.”

With partners including the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Science Center (GSC), Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) is working to combine ground-breaking scientific research with coordinated outreach in order to eliminate plastic pollution from the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

On May 9 – 12 2018, GCT ran the ‘From Science to Solutions’ workshop in Galapagos, hosted by GSC and the Charles Darwin Research Station. The workshop was attended by leaders in the field of marine plastic pollution from the UK, including from the universities of Exeter, York, Plymouth and Surrey, as well as local experts and Galapagos agencies. The workshop explored three main themes: quantifying the impacts of plastics to the Galapagos wildlife; determining where marine plastic pollution is coming from and where it goes to; and identifying solutions such as alternative products and behaviour change.

The findings from the workshop will be used to support local agencies to develop a five-year action plan to address the issues surrounding plastic pollution. This will build on the recent resolution by the Government Council of Galapagos to restrict single-use plastics as well as existing community initiatives, whilst supporting the scientific research needed to answer critical questions and investigate solutions that will actually work to manage plastic pollution in Galapagos.

Sharon Johnson, Chief Executive of GCT, said: “The Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique, scientifically important places on Earth. Galapagos Conservation Trust is proud to be working with local Galapagos agencies to tackle the issue of marine plastic pollution. There is a real opportunity, and at a relatively low cost, to provide the world with an example of how we tackle plastic pollution in our oceans. We need to act now in order to help protect some of the world’s rarest species in one of the world’s most iconic archipelagos before it is too late. Everything is in place, bar funding.

Galapagos has inspired the world before and it can do it again. Where better to solve the problem of marine plastic pollution than on the Islands which have been so important in our understanding of the natural world and our place in it?

Watch coverage by ITV News here.

Date: 30 May 2018

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