Keith Williams of Australian Seabird Rescue in Ballina still remembers Grace, the 45 centimetre sea turtle that died from swallowing a plastic bag.
‘Grace first came to us with parasites in 2004 and she was treated and released,” Mr Williams recalls.
‘It came back three years later but this time it had a piece of plastic bag shopping bag inside, 15 centimetres by five centimetres.
‘It died as a result because the plastic was completely blocking its large intestine.’
Mr Williams said Grace was just one of countless sea animals at risk. More than one third of sea turtles seen by the group had ingested plastic, and some bird species were also at risk.
In a study conducted by ASR, 88 per cent of the Short-tailed Sheatwaters (Mutton Birds) examined had plastic in their digestive tract.
Mr Williams said other shearwaters and petrels were also at risk.
As part of the campaign to ban plastic bags, ASR has invited NSW Labor’s Shadow Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe to tour its rescue facility in Ballina today to see the damage firsthand.
In a statement released prior to the visit, Ms Sharpe said Labor would introduce a private member’s bill this year to ban the use of single use plastic bags.
Labor has also called on the Government to move quickly on a container deposit scheme, modelled on the successful South Australian system which has been operating for some time.
‘Across the country, hundreds of thousands of plastic containers and single use bags end up in waterways like this,’ Ms Sharpe said.
‘I am calling on the Government to back Labor’s plastic bag ban and get on with implementing a container deposit scheme as soon as possible.
‘Plastic bag bans have worked in the ACT and South Australia. Cash for containers has also worked in South Australia.
‘This is about bringing NSW in line with other states and territories and playing a leading in conservation – particularly on the east coast of Australia.’