Last year SeaWorld in San Diego looked at ways to reduce plastic bags in conjuncture with the opening of the Turtle Reef attraction. The program has been such a success that the company plans to eliminate plastic bags in all 10 locations across the country over the next year. SeaWorld Orlando will discontinue the use of plastic bags to coincide with the opening of their latest attraction, Turtle Trek. The devastating toll plastic bags wreck on the environment hit especially close to home for SeaWorld. Caring for wildlife and their natural habitats is part of SeaWorld's mission. The park partners with environmental organizations the world over to help a variety of causes all geared towards protecting, rescuing, and caring for animals and their habitats. The company has even formed animal rescue teams. Teams are dispatched to respond to animals in need either due to natural events or environmental disasters. The goal of the animal rescue teams is to return animals to their natural habitats; however, when an animal's injuries prevent them from being able to care and protect themselves in the wild the teams find a permanent home for the animals in one of the parks. SeaWorld also uses their position to spread the message of conservation and to educate people about how to protect our environment and the animals who call it home.
Plastic Bags and the Environment Do Not Mix
Discarded plastic bags are a major health hazard to animals. All too often animals mistake the bags for food and once ingested the bags cause a slow and painful death. Animals that eat plastic bags commonly starve to death because the bags create a false sense of fullness that prevents them from eating or the bags become tangled and lodged in the animal's digestive system, preventing food from being able to pass through. Plastic bags also pose an addition threat to marine wildlife because animals can become entangled in bags floating in the water. Once snared the bags may slow an animal down, thusly preventing it from being able to escape from predators or being able to catch prey. Sea turtles misidentify plastic bags for jelly fish and once the turtles eat the bags there is little anyone can do. It is difficult to impossible to identify when an animal in the wild is not eating as they should, and this is the tip that something is wrong. Unfortunately, in order for the animal to get help they have to be in such dire need of assistance that it is clear something is wrong; either the animal is severely underweight or maybe it was unable to follow its typical migratory pattern and it is someplace it should not normally be. There is also an element of luck, the animal has to be in the right place at the right time and cross paths with someone who recognizes there is a problem and does something about it. Sometimes the only way to diagnose when an animal has eaten items that cannot be digested is to examine the animal's body post mortem. No matter how things play out plastic bags are bad news for animals.
"This is a significant change for our company, one we hope will provide a model for our industry overall," said Jim Atchison, president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. "Eliminating plastic bags is an important statement about our commitment to the environment, as well as the need to help protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet." It is estimated that this move will eliminate 4 million plastic bags. This is a huge impact. This is more than a smart move for the environment. Doing away with plastic bags also saves the company money. Since SeaWorld is no longer covering this expense that means they will have more money to hopefully direct towards the rescue and care for animals in need.
Recycled or Reusable Shopping Bags
In the past visitors to any of the 10 parks under the Sea Word and Busch Gardens ownership who picked up items in the gift shops were given a plastic bag to carry their souvenirs. Once the bag is put into a customer's hands whatever happens to that bag is beyond the park's control. The customer may recycle the bag or it could end up as litter, litter that could contribute to the environmental problems the park was fighting to fix. With this in mind the San Diego Park made the right call to discontinue the use of plastic bags. Even if it were possible to guarantee that the bags would be disposed of properly there are still just too many negative impacts on the environment to make it a worthwhile move. The only options for visitors looking to pick up mementos of their visit now will be to carry their items home in bags made from 100% recycled paper or they can purchase a reusable bag. The reusable shopping bag is a great idea because it is a handy souvenir the customer can use again and again. It will also help get the sustainability message out there and spread the SeaWorld branding message. It is even possible that these bags could open the eyes of those who visit the park to the dangers of disposable plastic bags and the harm they can cause to animals in the wild.
Let's hope that this decision will inspire not only those who visit the parks to make environmentally friendly decisions in their lives, but also that SeaWorld will serve as a model to other parks. Swinging by the gift shop on the way out of an amusement park is a definite for many visitors. The changes SeaWorld is making will have a big impact, but if all amusement parks got on board with this idea that could have some incredibly stunning results.
To learn more about SeaWorld's efforts to do away with plastic bags go to http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/26/seaworld-cans-plastic-bags-nationwide/ or http://www.tampabay.com/features/travel/attractions/busch-gardens-seaworld-eliminating-plastic-bags/1226778.