Decades of producing plastic has been taking a large toll on marine life. Our oceans are filling with debris, mainly plastics, and it is affecting the ecosystem. Along with our article about sunscreen, keeping plastic out of the ocean is important for the well-being of animal life and even your life.
Unlike other materials, plastics are not biodegradable. As they are swept into the ocean from storm drains, beaches, and rivers, the plastic breaks up into little pieces which ultimately kills marine life.
Many different plastic items are washed into storm drains that flow into streams and rivers which eventually make it to the ocean. From plastic bags, to bottles and other consumer product containers, plastic is filling the ocean by millions of tons each year. It is estimated that at least 4.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Some of it gets washed up on beaches and rocky shores, while other debris floats in the currents and collects in masses.
Where currents flow, plastic is collected into areas and dominates the view. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of plastic, is located off the coast of California in the North Pacific Gyre. This plastic mass is twice as large as the state of Texas and has plastic pieces outnumbering wild life six to one. This is one example of what human waste is doing.
Beyond view, animals like sea birds, will pick at the plastic containers and eat them. Aside from toxins that can affect their health, the plastic will sit in their stomach and can eventually kill the animal by starving it to death. It can trick a turtle, bird, or seal lion into feeling full of food when in reality, it isn't getting any nutrients and will die.
Beyond eating, sea animals get entangled in the garbage, unable to pick it off, and can die, if not incur a lot of pain. Sea nets, plastic bags, and other materials easily ensnare creatures.
There are measures being taken to help clean up waste products like plastic, from storm drains being altered to keep plastic from flowing into the rivers and ocean. There are nets being set up at drainage outlets to collect waste material from flowing freely into the ocean currents.
Other industries are taking action to reduce plastic packaging for consumer goods. Adidas has put efforts in to create a 3D printed shoe made from ocean plastics.
All these kinds of steps are helpful, but far from the necessary measure we all need to take to keep our marine life healthy and ultimately, our lives healthy as well. Take care to clean up plastic debris where you see it. You may not know what effect removing each piece may have.