Animals

By Kim Reader


A diver has issued a stark warning after sharing upsetting images of a shark with a yellow plastic ring stuck round its head to reveal the devastating impact of plastic pollution on ocean life.

Jacek Dybowski, 52, was diving in the waters of the Red Sea near the Brothers Islands on October 2 when he was horrified by the sight of the oceanic whitetip shark with plastic tubing wrapped tightly around its neck, cutting into its gills.

Jacek, a keen underwater photographer, was able to capture a shocking series of photos of the animal, also known as a longimanus shark, which he claims must have been in ‘excruciating’ pain.

Television programme director Jacek thinks the shark must have got the tubing, which he believes to be a piece of diving equipment, stuck around its neck when it was young.

It appeared as the fish grew the plastic has become tighter around the poor animal’s neck, warping its growth and digging into its skin.

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While there is growing awareness around the millions of tonnes of plastic that end up in our oceans every year, Jacek said harrowing encounters like this hammer home the catastrophic effect humans are having on marine life.

Jacek, of Warsaw, Poland, said: “This shark appeared with three others but only he was swimming with a large group of pilot fish.

“It was only when he approached that we could see that it was wounded. It swam off and came back a few times, which is why I could take so many photographs.

“Seeing the shark like this was devastating. I had never seen anything like it.

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“In the beginning, I didn’t realise what had happened to the shark. I didn’t know what was located on its gills.

“I was shocked when I noticed that it was yellow plastic cutting into the shark very deeply. This had to be causing excruciating pain to it.

“When we were back on the boat, we looked at the photos and discussed what could have happened to this shark with the other divers.

“We came to the conclusion that he was wearing a necklace for fixing the second stage of breathing regulator.

“The shark had to somehow put it on himself when it was small and has grown into it. This plastic band looked like rooted in.

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“We discussed the possibility of re-diving and trying to remove this plastic but none of us had experience in this kind of activities. We decided it could be too dangerous.”

It is estimated that about eight million metric tons of plastic find their way into the world’s oceans every year.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, at current rates of pollution, there will likely be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050.

Once in the ocean plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade, all the while breaking down into smaller ‘microplastics’ which can be consumed by marine animals – and even find their way into the human food chain.

While domestic plastics, commercial waste and fishing are often highlighted as the root of the levels of pollution seen at sea, Jacek’s photos show how a simple ‘mistake’ can also have a devastating impact.

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Jacek said: “The vast majority of divers are friends of the environment.

“In this case, I think some beginner diver has probably lost some equipment and it’s had such a bad effect.

“Divers generally work to preserve the environment and clean the seas and oceans. Delighted by the beauty of the underwater world, they try to take care of it.”

Since taking up diving and underwater photography five years ago, Jacek said he has witnessed the overwhelming impact of plastics on the ocean countless times.

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Jacek said: “Unfortunately, most people do not understand how important the oceans and seas are for us.

“They contaminate them excessively and get rid of rubbish by throwing it directly into the water.

“There are areas in the world where it leads to environmental disasters. Plastic is a major problem.

“Very often during dives, you will see various types of garbage – glass, plastic, rubber tires, metal cans. We always try to take it with us if we can.”