An estimated 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter is dumped in oceans every year. In hotspots more than 3.5 million pieces of litter can occur per square kilometre. Plastic, which constitutes between 60 and 80 percent of marine debris, does not biodegrade and can persist in the marine environment for hundreds to thousands of years.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence on Canada's Eastern seaboard is a wild, unforgiving place, subject to extreme weather and partially covered with sea ice for much of the winter. At this time of year, it's particularly important for harp seals, who haul out onto the sea ice at the end of every winter to give birth to their pups in one of nature's most remarkable events. Their mothers stay with the pups for a few short days, feeding them high fat milk, after which the adults head back to sea leaving the pups on the ice. However, the future of these seal populations is threatened. Climate change is reducing the extent to which the winter sea ice forms and the ice is melting ever earlier, meaning mothers have less ice on which to give birth. The helpless pups can die as their icy platform melts away.
If harp seal populations are lost, the Canadian people will lose more than just a beautiful, iconic mammal. They will also lose any hope of benefiting economically from sustainable eco-tourism. For while the seal slaughter makes no economic sense, eco-tourism is a highly profitable and humane alternative.