Professional photographer Jukka Saarikorpi was recently scuba diving with his fiancée Aissa Paronen in Manta Point, Indonesia. Instead of being surrounded by the marine life they were hoping to watch, they were surrounded by, you guessed it, plastic.

Saarikorpi captured several images of the area and shared it on his Facebook page to raise awareness of the global problem of plastic waste.

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“There is a tornado of plastic rubbish and manta ray's swimming towards it,” he told the Daily Mail. “In other pictures my fiancée is diving in this tornado of plastic trash.”

He told the UK publication that the area is home to many manta rays that are especially vulnerable to the plastic pollution.

“Mantas are plankton eaters so if they get plastic in their system it will stay there and cause issues,” he said.

That observation echoes the conclusion of a new study in Trends in Ecology and Evolution that found that whales and sharks are being negatively affected by microplastics.

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Previously, the consequences of plastic pollution centered on smaller marine creatures like fish, turtles, and seabirds who are known to accidentally ingest pieces of plastic.

For instance, images of seabird carcasses with split-open stomachs harboring an assortment of plastic became a haunting indictment of global plastic supply chains.

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The new study discovered that whales and sharks also ingest microplastics that disrupt their ability to absorb nutrients and may have directly toxic effects, according to Futurism.

Filter feeders like blue whales, in particular, end up consuming huge quantities of microplastics as they bare their baleen plates to filter plankton from the water, the study found.

The manta rays around Indonesia are similarly vulnerable, according to Saarikorpi.

Globally, around 380 million metric tons of plastic are being created annually. Meanwhile, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year, which is like emptying a garbage truck of plastic into an ocean every minute.

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Advocates like Saarikorpi are trying to highlight the severity of the problem to spur political action and governments are beginning to take action.

The UN recently proposed a global ban on plastic pollution entering the oceans; Canada is planning to introduce a similar proposal at the G7 gathering later this year; and a range of local, state, and federal governments are enacting targeted and sweeping bans on plastic use.

But unless the status quo changes soon, plastic production is on pace to grow 40% over the next decade.

“I wanted to share the images in order to bring awareness of recycling and the need for proper waste management system in these areas,” Saarikorpi said.

“As a photographer I am entitled to shoot something that is of a disturbing nature and highlight it for other people, in order to drive change for the better,” he said.

Global Citizen campaigns on ending plastic pollution and you can take action on this issue here.


Defend the Planet

‘Tornado of Plastic’ Envelops Photographer in Indonesia

By Joe McCarthy