In 2018, the theme for Earth Day is one that needs action and inspiration in the most urgent of ways. Plastic pollution – it’s a frightening problem. If you were to think long and hard about all the facts it might even keep you up at night. 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced annually, eight million tonnes enter our ocean each year, and by 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

When plastic enters our oceans marine life ingest this. And if that is not horrific enough, these plastics – made from fossil fuels and able to release toxins and carcinogenics – are being absorbed by: the seafood we eat; the air we breathe; and the ground which we stand upon. Most terrifying of all? Plastic has only been produced for the last 70 years, and we already have 8.3 billion metric tonnes of the stuff, which will take a thousand years to break down, if ever. Scientists are calling it “an uncontrolled experiment on a global scale”.

On the day dedicated to the only earth we’ve got, we’ve decided to introduce Auckland Zoo Resident Vet, Lydia Uddstrom, who dedicates her personal life, career, and research to conserving this unique and incredible planet, and who seriously practices what she preaches. A qualified vet, Lydia has spent many years gaining experience in a variety of settings, before undertaking a PhD while working in Auckland Zoo’s vet hospital. Lydia loves the variety of her work at Auckland Zoo, from working with the weird and wonderful exotic species, to supporting the Department of Conservation’s field work, and Auckland Zoo’s partnership with Kelly Tarlton’s rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles.

Lydia is undertaking comprehensive research investigating NZ turtle deaths and diseases. This research may not be all about plastic ingestion of turtles, but her knowledge on the matter has had her heavily involved in the Turtle Rescue partnership, providing superb turtle veterinary care along with the rest of the vet team at Auckland Zoo. The most devastating case Lydia has seen was the death of a beautiful young Hawksbill turtle that had ingested enough plastic to fill a one litre container. This was enough plastic to block her intestines, slowly and painfully starving her to death.

There are some really easy questions people can ask themselves – do I really need that plastic? If so, can I find a reusable option rather than single use? And is my reusable item then recyclable?

Lydia Uddstrom, Resident Vet at Auckland Zoo

“It’s so heartbreaking because you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the plastic has come from us, and as a direct result of that this animal has died, and in a horrible way,” Lydia said.

Lydia believes the problem with plastics is that they’re a matter of convenience. It’s the easiest, cheapest way to do something, and because of this it’s used in large volumes. Lydia lives by what seems a pretty simple philosophy, but in practice it takes some serious dedication. She believes it’s all about people taking that first step, changing one habit at a time.

“There are some really easy questions people can ask themselves – do I really need that plastic? If so, can I find a reusable option rather than single use? And is my reusable item then recyclable?”

Lydia will never walk past a piece of rubbish, or buy individually wrapped things where possible, and recycling soft plastics is a favourite chore, but something a lot of people don’t realise is an option. Most supermarkets in big cities have soft plastic recycling, not just for plastic bags, but also for single use plastic you will find when buying rice, pasta, chocolate bars and packets of biscuits.


Critically endangered turtle ingests plastic

The 106 pieces of plastic shown in this video were found in the stomach of a hawksbill turtle, which subsequently died as a result its internal injuries. It’s crucial that we limit our use of plastics and plastic bags so that they don’t needlessly end up in our oceans causing injury to our critically endangered marine species.

Lydia’s number one conservation goal is to inspire others to be passionate about saving the environment and partake in conservation practices, and believes it’s only then, we will achieve anything.

Help sea turtles

  1. If you come across a marine turtle on a beach anywhere in New Zealand, contact your local DOC office on 0800 HOT DOC (0800 362 468)
  2. Get involved: help with a local beach clean-up. Visit
  3. Reduce, reuse and recycle as much as you can
  4. Choose wisely: Use reusable shopping bags to reduce your use of plastic, and ideally, say no to plastic!