One of the world’s leading divers and conservation experts has visited the North East to warn about discarded plastic getting into the human food chain.
Paul Rose said plastic waste in the sea could end up in fish caught for human consumption.
The presenter of the BBC2 series Oceans and respected marine campaigner said plastic is often found inside fish and birds.
He said plastic breaks down in the sea and is accidentally eaten by wildlife which, in the case of fish, could end up on our dinner plates.
Mr Rose, a former commander of a research station in Antartica, said he was worried about the consequences.
He said: “I’ve been diving the world’s oceans for over 40 years – and plastic waste is an increasing problem.
“It’s out there in the ecosystem, getting into the food chain, harming wildlife.
“And as a top of the food chain predator myself, goodness knows what it might be doing to me.
“In its raw form plastic is moved around the globe on ships as billions of tiny pellets that will be remoulded at a later date.
“And when these items find their way into our oceans you can see how easy it is for a fish or bird to mistake them for a tasty snack.”
Mr Rose, filming the BBC documentary Inside Out, visited the Dove Marine Laboratory at Cullercoats, North Tyneside.
He is shown carrying out an autopsy on a fulmar, a bird closely related to the albatross, and is visibly upset when he finds a jagged piece of plastic in its stomach. The laboratory is carrying out research on the effects of plastic on birds.
Jan Van Franeker, leading the research, said: “These larger items of plastic are horribly harming our seabirds as they lodge in their stomachs causing blockages which effectively slowly starve the birds to death.”
Mr Rose has led hundreds of antarctic expeditions and was awarded the Queen’s Polar Medal for his services.
He feels passionately about the threat of plastic in the sea and is urging more action to reduce the damage.
He said: “The big question is just how far up the food chain this plastic waste will actually go.
“But there’s one way to minimise the risk to wildlife and to ourselves and that’s to do all we can to stop plastic getting into the sea in the first place.”
During the programme he visits a team of volunteers in Scarborough to help a team of volunteers who patrol the beach looking for rubbish.
In the course of just one hour he helps to collect nine kilos of waste left behind.
Inside Out can be seen on BBC1 tonight at 7.30pm.