A year on from Blue Planet II, BBC One film reveals the devastating consequences of the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans

BBC One continues its mission to uncover the devastating impact plastics are having on our oceans in this special film that looks at one of the most significant and important environmental crises of our time.Charlotte Moore
Date: 23.09.2018     Last updated: 27.09.2018 at 11.03
Category: BBC One; Factual
BBC One’s Drowning In Plastic will pick up where Blue Planet II left off to explore the devastating impact plastic has on our marine environment, and the wider ramifications that our throwaway culture has had on the creatures that share our planet.

To be broadcast on 1 October, wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin will take audiences on an important journey to look at the dangers and struggles of our marine wildlife, and the sheer extent of the problem that now faces us as a species as our seas increasingly become choked up. 

Included in the programme:

  • Microplastics - Film looks at new research looking at the impact of microplastics on the Arctic, examining how its presence in the food chain has filtered from plankton up through to walruses. This has wider implications for humankind; scientists have now discovered that plastic is so widespread in the environment that it is entering our bodies from a whole host of different sources - from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and other foods we eat.
  • The Coral Triangle - Presenter Liz Bonnin looks at new research which reveals that the presence of deadly coral-killing bacteria goes up with the presence of plastic, increasing from natural levels of 4% to 89%. Plastic’s surface is a breeding ground for bacteria that spreads disease and decay across some of our most delicate ecosystems in the ocean, killing off fragile coral that have evolved over centuries, in a matter of years.
  • Lord Howe Island - the average content of plastic in a young Flesh-footed shearwater chick's stomach on Lord Howe Island equates to the equivalent of a human eating 10kgs of plastic - with a record 260 individual pieces of plastic being found in just one chick’s stomach. Chicks do not get enough food after being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents and are therefore too heavy to fly when they reach the shoreline; normally they would fly out to sea when old enough and not return to land for seven years. Research also suggests plastic affects their hormonal systems and growth development.
  • Liz visits the Citarum River in Indonesia where each day, an estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic flows downstream; it is so polluted that the number of fish in the river has declined by 60% over 20 years and the fish that do live there are unsafe for human consumption. Locals who used to be fishermen now have to become plastic pickers in the huge and shocking rafts of plastic rubbish that choke the river as they drift towards the sea.
  • Fishing industry - Nearly every net, rope and line used in commercial fishing is made of plastic, with over a million tonnes of plastic fishing gear lost or dumped at sea each year. Entanglement in this material affects animals all over the world, killing over 300,000 marine mammals and 400,000 seabirds a year.  Globally, there are fewer than 30 small rescue teams for an estimated population of two million whales; and in shocking scenes Liz joins a rescue team and sees how our plastic consumption has a long lasting and fatal impact on the creatures that live in the sea.
  • Around the globe every minute, we buy a million plastic bottles, a million disposable cups and two million plastic bags.  Across the world only 11% of plastic is recycled. Currently the focus is still on producing new plastic rather than recycling it; if attitudes don't change, it’s estimated that annual plastic production in 2050 will have increased by 500%.
  • But it isn't all doom and gloom. New inventions to try and clean up our ocean looked at in the film include giant ‘trash wheels’, ‘ropeless’ lobsterpots that could transform the plastic impact of the fishing industry, and a new cleanup system to try and clear the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Liz also visits an experimental project ‘Garbage Bank’ in Indonesia that makes plastic valuable. Seagrass could also hold the secret to saving our coral reefs as it naturally reduces bacteria.
  • With food packaging making up over a third of all plastic waste in the ocean, Liz also meets an entrepreneur aiming to revolutionise food packaging by offering an alternative, made of biodegradable seaweed that would go a long way in trying to help prevent the estimated eight million tonnes of plastic from entering our oceans each year.

Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, says: “BBC One continues its mission to uncover the devastating impact plastics are having on our oceans in this special film that looks at one of the most significant and important environmental crises of our time.”

Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History & Specialist Factual, says: "Blue Planet II had an extraordinary impact in raising awareness of the threat of plastics to our oceans. This powerful and emotional 90 minute special signals our continued commitment to exploring the challenges facing the natural world and bringing our audience the very latest research from the field on this incredibly important subject."

Drowning In Plastic airs on BBC One on Monday 1 October at 8.30pm

Drowning In Plastic is part of Plastics Watch, a pan-BBC initiative looking at the changes happening across the UK and the wider world in tackling plastic pollution, following the huge global impact of Blue Planet II.

Drowning In Plastic (1x90') was commissioned by Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning Natural History and Specialist Factual and Charlotte Moore, Director of Content. The Commissioning Editor is Craig Hunter. It is being made by Raw TV where the Exec Producer is Exec is Dominique Walker and the Director is Tom Watt-Smith.