Earlier this month, Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, journeyed to the deepest depths of the earth’s abyss — the frightening Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. In what has now become the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine, Vescovo descended approximately 35,853 ft inside the intimidating aquatic pit. He came across sea creatures, including four new species — prawn-like crustaceans called amphipods. However, in that dark abyss, what also stared back at him: A plastic bag and candy wrappers.
More people have walked the surface of the moon than the Mariana, and plastic making its way to such a space is a sobering reminder of how deep the rot has spread. The relentless pursuit of plastic, driven by multiple industries worldwide, typically looking for cheaper, more durable alternatives to costly materials, is squeezing the life out of nature. Earlier this year, there were reports of a British research team which captured amphipods that scavenge on seabeds from six of the world’s deepest ocean trenches. When they eventually sampled them in a laboratory, more than 80 per cent of the creatures were found to have plastic in their guts. Reports routinely talk of sea animals, especially whales, getting beached which have plastic in them.
Arguably, one of the first synthetic polymers — plastic is one such — was invented in 1869 by John Hyatt (in the form of celluloid). He was trying to find a substitute for natural ivory that was in demand owing to a spike in popularity of billiards gear. Hyatt’s discovery was seen as a lifeline for elephants that had to be slaughtered for ivory. Nature and its resources, it was reported, had to be preserved, and hence the significance of plastic. Vescovo was witness to the irony of how plastic — aided by unaccountable human activities — now poses the gravest danger, instead, to any preservation.
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