The “Great Feast" exhibition presents the history of food as the basis of life and how humans have interfered with the Nature’s cycles. This includes the issue of marine pollution caused by waste and microplastics, and huge problems it causes the environment and its inhabitants. The exhibition includes a recreated sea coast covered in rubbish, an interactive aqualab and a small cinema screen.
Plastic waste has become an immense problem for the marine environment. In the Antarctic - far from human civilisation - marine researchers discovered that 80 per cent of the seabirds found have plastic waste in their stomachs. How is this possible? Seabirds, such as albatross, eat squid, fish, krill and carrion - anything that floats close to the sea surface. For the seabirds, everything is edible, which is why they never learned to avoid harmful objects. This is why rubbish ends up in their stomachs. Sharp-edged pieces of plastic lead to internal injuries. Smaller pieces fill up their stomach and simply stay there. The animals feel full and die of starvation as they fail to sense hunger and feed again.
There are massive swirls of rubbish floating in the oceans now. There is hardly a region that is not affected by huge levels of environmental pollution. We are quick to point the finger at the guilty parties: the poorer countries in the Southern hemisphere, which lack the facilities for proper waste disposal, and the freight ships, dropping rubbish into the ocean as they see fit. Hardly anyone is prepared to admit that a land-locked country such as Switzerland is also responsible for the problem. But we are.
On the one hand, our rivers also carry waste into the sea - the Rhine is the most heavily polluted with plastic and microplastics river in the world. And, on the other hand, even properly disposed of rubbish still finds its way into the ocean.
Microplastics are very small particles, which are added, for instance, to cosmetics. Sewage treatment plants are not capable of removing these particles completely. They quickly find their way into the waterways and finally into the ocean. As the time goes by, larger chunks of rubbish floating in the ocean also gradually fall apart into ever smaller pieces, affected by the weather. As plastic particles reach the size of plankton, fish as well as mussels and other vertebrates start feeding on it. Toxins contained within the microplastics dissolve and accumulate in the tissues of the animals. Sooner or later these marine creatures land on our plates, delivering all the health hazards back to the humankind.
At the Aqualabs, the Zoo staff and local volunteers show the visitors the exciting background to the Big Feast. A number of exhibits make it possible. Visible under a binocular microscope, there are various microorganisms, such as zooplankton, small crabs and other aquatic creatures, which form the start of the food chain. The visitors can compare larger underwater predators using their skulls and bites. Also, the Aqualabs address the problem of plastic waste and overfishing.
Four short films are on show at the small cinema at the aquarium: the ARD documentary "North Sea Rubbish Dump" from Heligoland, an animation on the subject of microplastics, an animation on overfishing and a film about the ART nature conservation project at Zurich Zoo. Between the films, there are short funny commercials on litter louts.