A photographer captured the moment a baby bird was fed a discarded cigarette butt by its mother after it was left behind by beachgoers in Florida.
The photo shows a tiny skimmer bird with a cigarette butt in its mouth, after it was fed it by its mother. The photographer, Karen Catbird, is now calling for cleaner beaches in Florida.
Posting on Facebook, the photographer wrote: ‘this Skimmer chick was offered a cigarette butt by it’s parent. It’s time we cleaned up our beaches and stopped treating them like one giant ash tray.’
Of course, Karen is not alone in wanting cleaner beaches.
In Florida, the environmental group ManaSota-88 have called for the prohibition of tobacco on public beaches. A bill was planned to introduce the legislation but was unfortunately not taken up during the 2019 session, according to Metro.
In a statement, ManaSota-88 said:
Unfortunately, the 2019 Legislature did not act on the smoking ban and the bill died in the Environment and Natural Resources committee.
State government does have a role in addressing public health hazard.
Cigarette smokers should not be allowed to use our public beaches as an ashtray. ManaSota-88 fully supports local and state efforts to reduce the irresponsible disposal of cigarette butts on public beaches.
Sadly, it’s not the first time we’ve seen wildlife mistake discarded cigarette butts for food. In fact, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration, it happens fairly often.
The agency warned of the dangers such butts pose to wildlife, saying:
Eating them could cause the animal to choke or starve to death because the plastic isn’t digested, filling up their stomachs
Sarasota, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, also tried to enact a tobacco ban on its beaches, though the ordinance was overturned in 2013 as it was deemed unconstitutional.
Earlier this year, it was reported cigarette butts are now the ocean’s single largest source of pollution. Cigarette butts are the single most collected item during cleanup operations on beaches, with more than 60 million being picked up over the last 32 years.
Because of this, a number of campaign groups and activists are working towards getting cigarette filters banned, both because of the pollution they create and the risk to human health they pose.
As Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, said:
It’s pretty clear there is no health benefit from filters. They are just a marketing tool. And they make it easier for people to smoke.
It’s also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can’t continue to allow this.
5.6 trillion cigarettes are produced worldwide every year. The majority of them come with filters made of cellulose acetate – a form of plastic which takes more than a decade to decompose.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.