Animals and rubbish

Whenever we hear the terms ‘animal’ and ‘rubbish’ or ‘trash’ in the same sentence, it is usually a with a threatening message stating how animals are getting trapped, suffocated or poisoned as a result of human consumerism. But there are many examples of animals who have adopted quickly to our littering, and have made a steady habitats out of these unstable islands.

Jasper Doest is currently working on a project on the white stork (Ciconia ciconia), one photo of which got  commended in the Veolia Environnment Wildlife Photographer of the Year. These birds are long-distant migrants, whose journey has been well-documented. It breeds in many parts of Europe but travels down to Africa (anywhere between Sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa) to overwinter. In its migration, it avoids the Mediterranean Sea by travelling either via the Levant by Egypt or the Strait of Gibraltar. Whenever resting in the Strait of Gibraltar they spend a lot of time at rubbish dumps, feeding off scrap food, bugs and mice. These aren’t the only animals who have found a stable source of food here; other visitors include black kites (Milvus migrans) and griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus). This dump has become such an important resting site that if the government decided to remove this eyesore, it would be detrimental to the bird’s migratory patterns. Other dumps are having the same effect around the world, another example of which are African dumps attracting the maribou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus).

Jasper Doest Garbage Picking

Commended in several competitions, it’s Jasper Doest’s work on the white stork.

In the Lembeh straight off the northern part of Sulawesi, Indonesia, there is an incredible array of fish and other micro-organisms that live in our oceans, that have made their homes out of the rubbish that has been dumped in the region for tens of years. This ‘muck diving’, i.e. areas that are lacking in otherwise safe habitats for fish such as corals whereby sea life has found ways to shelter from predators in the black sand or man-made structures, will reveal a world in which marine masters of camouflage have quickly adapted to their changing environment to the point which conservationists may want to clean the area up, but the question is if this would not be more detrimental to the area than beneficial. It is not uncommon to see a frogfish sharing a paint can with a pufferfish. The vast array of unusual critters these habitats hold (such as pygmy seahorses, hair frogfish and stargazers and cockatoo flounders) goes to show that, in small quanities, human impact does not have to shout ‘disaster’.

Francesco Ricciardi Lembeh

Francesco Ricciardi’s image from the Lembeh Strait in Indonesia

Brownfield sites, areas of previously-industrialised land that is available for reuse, are proof of how resilient nature is. A friend made a 30-minute documentary on Canvey Wick, a brownfield island in the Thames estuary, in co-operation with Buglife, to reveal all the various species of insects that have come to inhabit this site, including very rare species of bee and butterfly.
Click here to view Neil Taylor’s Canvey Wick, an insect’s paradise

Finally, I’m sure most people at some point or other have had their rubbish torn apart by animals, whether by crows, foxes, bears or in Ethiopia, Hyenas. Not many people like these carnivores roaming around, but they have come to accept them as walking rubbish disposals. However, Ethiopian Christians still strongly abide by the fasting ritual and for 55 days will refrain from eating meat and other animals products. What effect does this have on the hyenas? Scat sample analysis has shown that these critters will usually eat goat, cow, sheep and horse, i.e. scavenged waste parts, but during lent they return to hunting and fill their bellies on donkey meat.

Curious what a wall-e style bailout might look like?  Here’s a few floating cities that National Geographic thought were worth mentioning. No animals anywhere in sight.

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