Cape Town - A recent study by Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Sea Search-Namibian Dolphin Project and Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) found that hundreds of Cape Fur seals were in extreme danger of being entangled in fishing lines and nets each year, because of plastic pollution, causing horrific injuries and many slow, painful deaths.
The study was part of an ongoing project to investigate the impact of pollution on fur seals in Namibia. The first results were recently published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. The research team aims to extend the project to South Africa. They already started collecting data from Seal Island, in False Bay and Hout Bay.
SU Botany and Zoology senior lecturer and Sea Search-Namibia Dolphin Project co-director Dr Tess Gridley said the most common injury for marine life was fishing line or fishing nets around their necks, and a high number of affected animals in their seal study were young seals.
“Often the young animals get entangled and then, as they grow, the fishing line, net or other plastic material gets tighter and tighter, cutting through skin, blubber and eventually muscle.
“Plastic pollution and, particularly, lost and discarded fishing nets, are having a big impact on marine life. Once entangled, these seals face a very painful and uncertain future – finding food becomes harder and wounds can become deep and debilitating, and likely cause death in many cases,” said Gridley.
Namibia Ocean Conservation co-founder Naudé Dreyer said they already disentangled more than 600 fur seals, in only two colonies, since the start of 2021 – and this was just the tip of the iceberg.
“It is imperative that studies such as this highlight the consequences of plastic waste on marine animals, and bring around change for the better,” said Dreyer.
Gridley implored fishing, plastics, waste disposal industries, and governments, to work together to find solutions to prevent plastics from entering the oceans, and to recover fishing nets which continue to float in the ocean.
Namibian Dolphin Project research student and lead author Stephanie Curtis said the impact of plastic pollution in the oceans was devastating.
Gridley appealed to the public to donate towards their research, as they were in need of financial support, at https://gofund.me/8cc1f09f