canary in a coal mine is an advanced warning of some danger. The metaphor originates from the times when miners used to carry caged canaries while at work; if there was any methane or carbon monoxide in the mine, the canary would die before the levels of the gas reached those hazardous to humans.

Death by plastic

We are all aware of plastic pollution but, being confronted with a dead African penguin, where the cause of death is starvation due to plastic ingestion, turns “awareness” into stark reality.  We need to pay heed to the klaxon alarm that has been sounding for a while.

The carcass of a young African penguin was found on Grotto Beach in Hermanus and brought to the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary to determine the cause of death. Sr Theanette Staal conducted a necropsy and found that the bird died of starvation caused by plastic ingestion. The ingested plastic caused internal ulcers and inhibited the bird’s feeding capacity.

Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to ingesting plastics because most species feed at or near the ocean surface. They forage along eddies and oceanic convergence zones – the same areas where marine plastics accumulate.

Fast facts

  • Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  • A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes.
  • Over the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • What we see floating at the surface is just 5%of the plastic pollution in the ocean – the other 95% lurks below the surface, according to Ocean Conservancy.
  • More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped in our oceans every year.
Plastic wrapper easily confused with prawn

Drifting plastic are easily confused with a prawn

Plastic wrapper removed from penguin

The cause of death – a plastic wrapper