Over the last few decades, plastic use has proliferated incredibly and seeped into every crevice of our lives. Wherever we go, plastic is present and abundant. Our society has grown dependent on this material. At the same time, however, its widespread use has made us take it for granted. We have developed a “throw-away” culture, using and tossing plastic products without a second thought, not even consciously considering how they may end up in our waterways when we’re doing so. They do.
This throw-away culture of ours is fast approaching a point of no return. An equivalent of a truckload of plastic ends up in our oceans every single minute. Add to this the fact that all the plastic we’ve ever tossed is still present and we’re starting to paint a picture of the harsh magnitude of our man-made ocean plastic pollution problem. Once in the ocean, plastic can be detrimental to our marine life. Let’s take a look at some of the harmful effects this material can have on sea creatures.
Sea turtles can mistake plastic trash for food. Plastic bags are the most commonly ingested items by sea turtles, but a whole host of other items have been found in their stomachs, including styrofoam and ropes. Plastic ingestion by sea turtles can cause blockages in the gut, internal perforation and death. Plastic has been found in all species of sea turtles and research shows that currently half of all sea turtles worldwide have plastic in them.
Ingestion of plastic by fish can lead to intestinal injuries and death. On top of this, plastic within fish can be passed up the food chain, ultimately making its way to animals at the top (including us humans). A 2015 study in Californian and Indonesian markets showed that approximately 1 in 4 fish there had plastic particles in their guts. Plastic particles (including microplastics) have been found in other seafood in markets, including shellfish like oysters and mussels. Whilst the full extent of plastic-contaminated seafood’s effects on humans are still unknown, we already know that this material contain major contaminants such as BPA, a harmful chemical that can cause hormone imbalances and even cancer.
Ingesting plastic takes up a significant amount of space in the stomachs of seabirds. This reduces their ability to consume food, ultimately causing these birds to starve. Currently plastic has been found in more than 60% of seabird species. This number is expected to jump to 99% by 2050.
Nearly 300 species of sea creatures have been found to be directly affected by the ocean plastic problem we humans introduced to them, including endangered animals like the Hawaiian monk seal. In fact, It is estimated that 100,000 marine creatures and 1 million seabirds die from plastic every year. However, unless we make an effort to tread a more sustainable path, to seek out eco-friendly alternatives, we’ll help ensure that this toxic relationship between plastic and the ocean is here to stay.