The statistics are staggering. There are eight million tons of plastic floating in the ocean. Microplastics are becoming so numerous that they represent the majority of many plankton samples. One study estimates that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Huge garbage patches circulate in many regions. And 80% of marine debris consists of plastic washing from the land.
Did you know that each of us uses about 200 pounds of plastic a year? Also at a time in which we are trying to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels because of global warming, plastics are made from petroleum. One of the more insidious forms of plastic pollution exist as microplastics which are found in toothpastes and cosmetics and they travel to the ocean via groundwater after being flushed down a sink.
The impact of marine plastic litter on marine wildlife has been devastating. Many endangered animals such as whales and turtles are often maimed and even killed by plastic debris. Turtles mistakenly identify floating and inflated plastic bags as jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Ingesting plastic bags can block their respiratory systems. The same is true with seabirds that may inadvertently ingest various forms of plastic. Seals, dolphins, and whales get tangled in plastic fishing line and can die from choking or infections as the plastic cuts through their skin.
We need to drastically reduce our consumption of all forms of plastic. Many towns on Cape Cod and throughout the country have been proactive by banning single use plastic bags. Micro plastics should be removed from all beauty products. Industry should use alternative bio-plastics based on plant sources such as corn or wheat. These are biodegradable and non-toxic to marine life. However, that does mean that these plants are then not being used as food. If plastic has to be used it should be properly recycled and kept out of the waste stream.
The United Nations has launched an international Clean Seas campaign to convince governments, industries, and individuals throughout the world to concentrate more effort on cleaning up plastic in the ocean and preventing it from entering in the first place. It has been estimated that plastic pollution causes eight billion dollars of damage annually. But the real costs may be a transformation of life in the ocean to a biological desert.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.