For the last half-century, plastic has become an integral part of our daily life. From furniture to grocery bags, from vehicle parts to toys, plastic is an unavoidable element of our lives in a variety of forms. However, from being regarded as a very vital presence in the contemporary world, plastic has now come to be looked upon as a material of immense potential destruction and harm.
As is commonly known, plastic isn’t biodegradable, which accentuates the threat of lingering waste plastic for years and for generations to come. According to estimates, people around the world throw away almost four million tons of trash every day, of which 12.8% is plastic, polluting land, air and water. While plastic thrown into landfills contaminates the soil and groundwater with harmful chemicals and microorganisms, the effects of marine pollution caused by plastic are immeasurable.
Just like on land, even in the oceanic areas, the effects of plastic on marine life has started to be felt. The studies reveal that around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste are washed into the ocean every year. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates there could be as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in the oceans already.
This infographic by one ocean one world gives a clear idea on how plastic is affecting the ocean.
While a part of the plastic waste in the oceans comes from land, predominantly as a result of mismanaged waste disposal, the ships and offshore oil and gas platforms also contribute to it.
In recent time, considering the increase in the disposal of plastic in the ocean, it has become imperative to take all possible measures to combat this problem by understanding the consequences of plastic in the ocean. But before one can do so, one needs to understand the repercussions of plastic in the sea, which is necessary to take the protective measures even more sensibly.
Among all the threats to the marine environment, the threat from plastic is one of the most dangerous ones.
Some of the ruinations of the oceanic domain caused by plastic waste can be explained as follows:
Garbage in the ocean – namely plastic – jeopardises the natural ambience of marine life. It disrupts the entire bio-geo cycle causing unwanted problems to the whole marine eco-system. Plastic threatens the existence of life under water right from smaller fishes to huge mammals and amphibians in several ways. Reports say that around one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed every due to plastic ingestion. Unfortunately, several marine species are on the verge of extinction because of such type of ocean pollution.
Consumption of plastic by marine creatures causes severe digestive problems which go mainly untreated. Reports suggest that the consumption of plastic by all type of fish amounts to several of tonnes every year. In addition to causing intestinal injury and death of these fish, this also spread the risk across the food chain, to bigger fish and marine mammals.
Sea turtles are the other unfortunate victims of plastic pollution in the waters, apart from fishes. Similar to fish and other marine beings, Sea turtles also consume plastic garbage as food, leading to blockage in the gut and ulceration, and eventually to death. Studies have found that half of the sea turtles around the world have ingested plastic.
Sea turtles are also the most common victims of ‘Ghost Nets’ in the ocean. Like plastic bags or bottles or any other junk, the stray plastic nets used for fishing and plastic crates also cause oceanic ruination. These plastic wastes make harms to the marine life by choking life-forms or by getting tangled in precious reefs, causing them to break apart. These nets are known as ‘Ghost Nets,’ while the process of marine creatures being tangled in them is referred to as ‘Ghost Fishing.’ In regards to the stray plastic crates, a reference was made about a plastic crate choking a penguin in the movie “Happy Feet.”
Plastic waste in the oceans also threatens the life of birds and other beings that depend on the oceanic life-forms for their food requirements. Most of the times, these beings suffer because of ingestion of plastic or because of suffocation, especially birds, by merely being tricked by the brighter colours of plastic junk. The birds also often get caught in the debris and end up dying due to suffocation. According to several kinds of research, 44% of all seabird species, along with cetaceans and sea turtle have been documented to have plastic debris in or even around their bodies.
Plastic pollution in the seas affects human beings in different ways. In addition to the risks from polluted marine waters, ingestion of plastic by fish and other marine beings also in-turn causes harm to people who consume marine food. Plastic contains a lot of substances which might otherwise be hazardous. When fishing activities are carried out, there is every chance that fishes infected with such harmful substances might find their way into our household, thereby causing health problems to the end consumers. Studies have found that toxins in plastics cause several of health issues including cancers, immune system problems, and birth defects.
Check out this video by the United Nations, on how plastic is ruining marine life.
The amount of garbage in the seas also pollutes the oceanic waters, just like the plastic harm the marine life in several ways. Dispensation of hazardous materials, including toxic substance such as Bisphenol A, which has been found commonly in many plastic commodities, pollutes the water badly. Since Bisphenol A doesn’t get diluted in water, it results in grave environmental problems. Similarly, the debris uses oxygen as it degrades, resulting in the low level of oxygen in the waters. As oxygen levels go down, it badly affects the survival of marine animals including whales, dolphins and penguins.
The ruination of the ocean doesn’t also only include the high seas. It also includes the shores and the beaches which are infested with plastic. The plastic waste can either float for miles on the water or they could be submerged on the sea-bed or commonly be found on the sea-shore. Such congested areas become easy threats to birds and other land animals that get caught up in the choke-hold of plastic. Irrespective of the location, the eco-system gets impaired hugely because of such marine debris.
Ocean garbage in the form of plastic also leads to invasion of non-indigenous species and organisms in naturally occurring marine colonies, thus posing a threat to the functioning of ecosystems. The billions of micro-plastic particles floating in the ocean are all potential carriers of non-indigenous invasive species.
Sometimes, oceanic currents, particularly gyres, accumulate plastic within their spiral and concentrates in different areas of the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, is an example of such as marine debris. Researchers say this is the largest ocean garbage site in the world and also this floating garbage site is almost twice the size of Texas. Learn how the Ocean cleanup system will be fighting this.
Plastic in the sea is a result of human callousness. Since the annual consumption of plastic has been increasing every year globally, the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the seas also increasing drastically. And, in addition to the ill effects to the marine ecosystem, the plastic pollution also creates negative impacts on the economy as it affects sectors including tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, among others.
However, there are many efforts underway to reduce plastic pollution in the seas, including measures including the cleaning up of beaches and waterbodies, and preventing the entry of plastic into the ocean in the first place. There many organisations that are fighting to save the oceans. As part of battling plastic pollution, particularly in the ocean, many countries have restricted or banned several forms of plastic products. The enumerable sewage treatment efforts across the world and the increasing awareness about the negative impacts of plastic would possibly help us retain our oceans.
Over to you…
What according to you what are the main dangers of plastic in the ocean?
Let’s know in the comments below.
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