Science & Environment

Plastic pollution: Images of a global problem

In its June issue, National Geographic magazine has published a selection of startling photos highlighting the vast amounts of discarded plastic choking the world's oceans, shorelines and rivers.

Wildlife, particularly marine animals, are at risk when they become entangled in plastic waste, or ingest it.

Image copyright NAtional Geographic

Trapped in a plastic bag at a landfill in Spain, this stork has a lucky escape - the photographer later freed it.

One bag can kill more than once: carcasses decay, but the plastic lasts.

Image copyright Jordi Chias / NAtional Geographic

This loggerhead turtle has become entangled in an old plastic fishing net in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain.

The turtle could stretch its neck above water to breathe but would have died had the photographer not freed it.

Derelict fishing gear poses a major threat to large marine animals such as turtles.

Image copyright SHAWNMILLER2014

On Okinawa, Japan, a hermit crab resorts to a plastic bottle cap to protect its soft abdomen.

Beachgoers collect the shells the crabs normally use, leaving their rubbish behind.

Image copyright NAtional Geographic

The magazine has devoted much of its issue to the problem; the plastic pollution we can see at the surface is probably just a small proportion of what's in the ocean.

Plastic waste can break down into tiny particles, which are less visible, but may still affect marine life.

Image copyright Randy Olson

After sheets of clear plastic trash have been washed in the Buriganga River, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a woman spreads them out to dry.

She turns them regularly, while also tending to her son.

The plastic will eventually be sold to a recycler. Less than one-fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the US it's less than 10%.

Image copyright Brian Lehmann / National Geographic

These hyenas are shown scavenging at a landfill in Harar, Ethiopia.

They have adapted to the new normal: the animals listen for the collection trucks and find much of their food in the rubbish.

Image copyright Randy Olson / NAtional Geographic

Plastic bottles choke the Cibeles fountain, in central Madrid. An art collective called Luzinterruptus filled this and two other Madrid fountains with 60,000 discarded bottles as a way of calling attention to the environmental impact of disposable plastics.

Image copyright Justin Hofman / National Geographic

To ride currents, seahorses clutch drifting seagrass or other natural debris. In the polluted waters off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, this seahorse has latched onto a plastic cotton bud. Photographer Justin Hofman said it was "a photo I wish didn't exist".


Ellen MacArthur Guest Edits the June issue of National Geographic. Working in collaboration with Global Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg and the editorial team, twelve notable British figures, each respected leaders in their fields, have been exploring topics such as sustainability, technology, environmentalism and human ingenuity, as part of this first ever Guest Editor project.

It began in January, with the world's greatest living explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and a further eight Guest Editors were then announced including Dame Ellen MacArthur, Sir Mo Farah, Lily Cole, Archie Panjabi, Katie Piper, Maria Balshaw and Professor Brian Cox.