Healthy Seas, Healthy People.


Finding a whole cluster of these plastic polymers known as nurdle at Long Bay Beach today really got me thinking about this year’s theme for Sea Week, “Toiora te Moana – Toiora te Tangata – Healthy Seas, Healthy People”.

A huge part of New Zealand identity, specifically Maori culture, stems from our oceans and the seafood they produce. Sustainable fishing is vital in keeping that culture and identity alive (i.e. not catching too many fish, or fish of the wrong age/size) but it’s also important that we look after our sea and coastline if we want our  kaimoana to be plentiful and healthy.

All of the rubbish we dump onto our streets ends up at our beaches via storm water drains, and all of that rubbish plus the rubbish we dump at the beaches pollutes our water. Not only is this no good for us, but it’s no good for our fish, oysters, mussels, crayfish, and all the other delicious goodies we get from our coasts.

When rubbish gets affected by the sun, wind, and rain, it releases toxic chemicals that poison living creatures. Some of those chemicals, the phthalates, are considered “gender-bender” chemicals as they have been shown to alter the gender in some species, particularly fish. Sometimes they affect fish by literally making them change gender, in other species they alter the populations, meaning that more of one gender are born than the other, and that’s not good for ensuring plentiful fish supplies! {A lot of these chemicals such as BPA, Vinyl Chloride, Dioxin, Styrene, and Talc, have been linked with cancer}.
Most often fish mistakenly think that bits of plastic etc are food, and they eat them, and that makes them sick too.
Things like pipis, mussels, and oysters, are filter feeders. They have special siphons that bring surrounding water into their (very basic) digestive system and they filter out all the yummy particles which should be bits of algae and phytoplankton. Unfortunately though more often then not they are getting clogged up with little pieces of plastic instead.

By the 1990’s it was fairly common knowledge that mercury levels accumulate in seafood, particularly fish, and the higher up you were on the food chain the more mercury there was in your food. This is because there is naturally mercury in fish, which then get eaten by bigger fish (now we have two loads of mercury) and then sometimes a bigger fish and then an even bigger fish etc. until it ends up on your dinner plate with several times the normal level of mercury.

Well the same principle of bio-accumulation can be applied to the toxic chemicals and gases produced by plastic. One tiny fish eats a couple bits of plastic, the plastic meets the digestive enzymes and degradation occurs producing chemicals/gases that more than likely kill the fish. They fish gets eaten by another larger fish who also gobbles up a few nurdles before becoming a bigger fish’s dinner along with some more nurdles. So on and so forth until this plastic filled fish finds it’s way into your local supermarket or fish mongers. Sure you’re not eating the stomach contents and you’ll never even see the plastic, but whatever toxic gases and chemicals have been hanging out in your fish’s stomach have leached out into the rest of your fish. In a society were we’re worrying more than ever about GMO’s and pesticides, surely this is something we should be considering too?

For more information about Sea Week go to 



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