11 July 2024

The death of baby dugong Mariam, which is being blamed on plastic found blocking her digestive system, has renewed calls for stricter control, or a complete ban on the use of single-use plastic bags.

Well known marine scientist, and vice dean of the Faculty of Fisheries of Kasetsart University, Dr. Thon Thamrongnawasawat, told Thai PBS on Saturday that the recent campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags, which has cut their use by 100 million out of a total of 45 billion, was not enough.

He suggested that single-use plastic bags should be banned, beginning next year, as was done in New Zealand, or a fee should be imposed for their use.  He also said that the plan to reduce the use of plastic straws, due to begin in the next three years, should be brought forward to next year.

Dr. Thon admitted that he was shocked to learn about the sudden death of Mariam, and that several pieces of plastic were subsequently found in her intestine. The plastics ultimately resulted in the septic shock that killed her.

He disclosed that members of more than ten rare marine species, including sea turtles and whales, had died this year by becoming entangled in fishing nets or from eating plastic waste, including the case of a pilot whale which was found to have 85 plastic bags in its stomach.

He also cited the case of a leatherback sea turtle, which was found dead on a beach in Rayong province last month. Veterinarians found two plastic bags in its stomach, one plastic wrap for bread and five small pieces of plastic.

Thammasat University’s vice rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, meanwhile, appealed to the Thai public to stop using plastic bags “so that no more marine animals will die from eating plastic bags or pieces.”

“Is it about time that we, the Thai people, seriously address the problem of sea garbage,” said Prinya, adding that it was not only the fishermen or people who live in coastal areas who have been dumping garbage into the sea.

“About 80% of the 2,000 tonnes of garbage dumped into the sea each day come from the rivers,” he said, explaining that the garbage, including plastic waste, dumped into natural inland waterways find their way into the sea.

The vice rector claimed that 80% of plastic waste, including single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, which is dumped into landfills is washed by rain into streams or drainage systems and finally, finds its way into the sea.