Waste as far as the eye can see

An aquarium tank full of marine litter shows the tragic reality of our oceans

The diver plunges beneath the surface with his camera. Several metres down, he discovers a fascinating world: a blue PVC jellyfish floats past a tin-can crab, which pauses briefly before allowing itself to drift along with the current. Meanwhile, a green bottle fish seeks shelter amidst the fishing-net coral. This colourful underwater world is anything but idyllic – it is a threat that is spreading throughout the world’s oceans at an alarming rate. Marine pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems facing our planet. It is having a tremendous impact on genuine marine life – and on us humans, too.

Find out more, spread the word, and do your bit!

While the Our Ocean Conference was taking place in Malta in October 2017, at Aquarium Berlin a tank was being strewn with trash in an attempt to teach visitors about the problem of global marine pollution. “Most people don’t realise that the unspoiled underwater world we see on our TVs and at aquariums around the world doesn’t actually reflect the reality,” says Rainer Kaiser, Chief Curator of Aquarium Berlin. “With this project, we aim to raise awareness of the issue. Everyone needs to understand that they are personally affected by the problem, but also that there are things they can do to help.”

Neptune’s kingdom is awash with waste

Information walls draw even more attention to the problem of marine pollution, providing further visualisations of the dramatic circumstances in the world’s oceans and giving tips on how each one of us can help prevent unnecessary waste. The Aquarium’s cafeteria has also got involved, with a commitment to reduce waste and making sure that most of the rubbish that ends up in its bins is biodegradable. A large TV screen in the dining area shows a range of short documentary films focusing on marine pollution, with subtitles in German and English.

I’m a garbage whirl in a garbage world, a sea of plastic’s not fantastic

This is our ocean

The “Trouble in Paradise” project is part of the European Commission campaign Our Ocean – World Aquariums against Marine Litter. In partnership with the EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, many aquariums around the world, including Aquarium Berlin, are taking on the task of raising general awareness about the crisis of our oceans and educating the public about what they can do to help. The oceans are home to thousands upon thousands of important plant and animal species, and we must all do our part to protect them.

The eleventh hour

We can only hope that the PVC jellyfish, the tin-can crab and the green bottle fish do not continue to multiply throughout our oceans, but are instead driven to extinction. Perhaps one day, the litter tank at Aquarium Berlin will be just a distant memory of how things used to be. That’s a future worth fighting for, and all of us can help make it a reality! 

INTERVIEW WITH DR TOBIAS RAHDE – SPECIES CONSERVATION CURATOR AT ZOO BERLIN
Why has a tank at Aquarium Berlin been filled with litter?
It is important that we don’t only show visitors a beautiful, unspoiled underwater world – we also need to show the darker side of reality. The oceans aren’t just magnificent coral reefs and swarms of brightly coloured fish swimming through pristine nature. The extreme littering of our oceans is evident in seas all around the world. So we want to present this reality, this major problem, to our visitors.
Which animals are hit hardest by marine pollution?
In general, pretty much all animals are affected by the litter in our seas. Hardest hit is probably coral, which is suffocating under the masses of plastics and microplastics. Sea turtles are another major victim. They accidentally eat plastic bags because they mistake them for jellyfish. Those bags remain in the turtles’ digestive tract – meaning that the turtles starve to death even though their bellies are full.
What can individuals do to help?
First of all, try to avoid producing waste. When grocery shopping, pay attention to how things are packaged. It’s best to choose things wrapped in biodegradable material such as paper. Even better are food items that don’t require any packaging – such as fresh vegetables, bananas and oranges, which have their own natural wrappers. Another big problem are single-use cups and food containers. Try to avoid those altogether by taking along your own insulated coffee cup and/or a snack box. That saves money as well as resources. Of course, it’s difficult to avoid waste entirely in this day and age. But it helps if you separate your rubbish ready for recycling. If we all adopted these small and simple measures, that would have an extremely positive effect on our environment. The time to act is now!

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