How Plastic Pollution Affects Marine Life and How We Can Reduce It

Guest Author: Anna Kucirkova

When you gaze out the ocean, you probably think of the glorious marine life, the vast depths, and wonder of coral reefs and dolphins. You might not think of the huge amounts of plastic pollution floating, sinking, and decomposing in the ocean.

It’s a hard concept to grasp. Even though you might not see heaps of plastic pollution in the ocean, it’s there and it dramatically alters the lives of marine animals.

If you’re unaware of plastic pollution—both what it is, exactly, and the amounts piling up in our oceans—you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to explain the origin of plastic pollution, how it accumulates, and the steps you can take to reduce it.

The problem is getting worse and worse every day. Only with calculated steps, strategic planning, and sharing knowledge can we help to fight plastic pollution in the world’s waters.

Exactly How Much Trash Is In The Ocean?

plastic trash, bottom of the ocean, garbageConsider how much the world population grows every day. Now consider the constantly increasing amount of trash the population produces. Our lifestyles are on-the-go, touch-of-a-button, and too-fast-paced, which naturally—but unfortunately—leads to an increasing amount of plastic pollution. After all, plastic, from water bottles to plastic bags, makes it much easier to grab things and go

Some experts believe upwards of 300 million tons of plastic are consumed each year.

Even more unfortunate than the sheer volume of plastic produced, much of that plastic makes its way into our oceans, dramatically affecting the plants and animals that call our seas home.

As Markus Eriksen told National Geographic:

“This is relatively new if you think about plastic. Only since the 1950s [have] consumers [used] plastics. Now, a half-century later, we are seeing an abundant accumulation of microplastics from all single-use, throwaway plastics like bags, bottles, bottle caps, kitchen utensils. I have pulled cigarette lighters from hundreds of bird skeletons.”

Floating Plastic Debris

In fact, there are huge areas within the ocean where plastic has gathered and begun to negatively impact the natural environment of the ocean, creating significant issues for wildlife, plants, and even the human population.

When it comes to determining how much trash is in the ocean, it’s hard to calculate. It’s fairly standard and widely accepted that there are millions of tons of debris floating around in our waters—most of that being plastic.

Sometimes, the negative effects are obvious. People who live near or on coastlines commonly see bottles, cans, lids, straws, and bags floating up onto the shore every day.

As unsettling as that is in itself, the problem goes much deeper. An overwhelming amount of plastic pollution is collecting out at sea, as evident with the Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. What’s worse? Sometimes, you can’t even see the problem because microscopic plastic pollution is not visible to the naked eye.

How Plastic Gets Into The Ocean

It’s hard to imagine life without plastic products. There’s plastic in your throw-away straws, plastic bottles, plastic keyboards, plastic picture frames. Everywhere you look, plastic rears its ugly head. This inescapable epidemic surrounds us every day.

floating plastic trash, plastic trash on the beach, litter, jetsamSo, it’s no wonder that our plastic pollution is getting into the ocean. Trash can be carried to the ocean in rivers or when it’s swept away from the beach. It can also be dumped from offshore platforms, despite the fact that this has been banned since 1988. But that’s not all. Microplastics can enter the ocean when the wind blows litter and trash, even if it’s in a landfill or properly disposed of.

Additionally, micro-plastics, made up of synthetic fibers and beads that are found in personal hygiene products have been known to harm marine life if they consume them. In fact, too many microplastics can accumulate toxic chemicals in a person’s or animal’s bloodstream.

What Steps Can We Take?

Frightening, isn’t it? We can anticipate that the Great Garbage Patch of the Pacific will grow larger, that the marine life population in our oceans will dwindle, and that we’ll continue to kill off and strangle the plants and wildlife that populate our oceans.

floating plastic trash, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, ocean pollution, plastic pollutionUnless, that is, we take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening.

So, how can we reduce the plastic pollution in our oceans? What can we each do, on a daily basis, to stop this problem? Surprisingly enough, small, dedicated efforts often make an enormous difference for the health of the ocean and its inhabitants.

Stop Buying and Using Plastic

For example, one of the best—and easiest methods—Is to stop buying plastic water bottles. Although they’re certainly convenient, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash every single year, and a good percentage of those bottles end up in the ocean. Carry a reusable bottle instead.

Another great method for ridding the ocean of plastics is to wean yourself off disposable plastics. This one, unfortunately, is a bit more difficult. We live in a grab-and-go, fast-paced world, and weaning yourself away from plastics will take time, patience, and thoughtfulness. But it can start simply.

For example, stop using plastic grocery bags at the store and bring your own reusable bags. Forget disposable cutlery, plastic straws, and coffee cup lids. Say goodbye to plastic wrap, too. All of these small efforts will make a huge difference for the ocean.

Avoid Microplastics

But what about microplastics? For this, we suggest ridding yourself of microbeads. Microbeads are the tiny, plastic scrubbers that are in beauty products like face wash and toothpaste. They seem harmless, and of course they help keep you clean, but they’re so tiny that they can slip through water treatment plants and out to the oceans where animals ingest them and they muck up our oceans. Don’t want to give up your exfoliation? Try products with natural exfoliants like sand or oatmeal—you can probably make them on your own!

Of course, there are other steps you can take, too, like recycling, buying second-hand items to reduce the need for new plastics, and encouraging manufacturers in your area—and beyond—to consider how they’re using and disposing of their plastic materials.

Plastic Pollution, Marine Life, and You

The world’s population is only going to continue to increase, which means that our consumption, use, and disposing of plastic products will follow suit — unless we make a change. Currently, millions of tons of garbage — mostly plastic — fill the oceans.

beach trash, garbage, litter, jetsamThis garbage is accumulating in giant patches, clogging up our oceans, and harming the plants and animals that inhabit the seas. It’s also possible that our garbage issue in our oceans will get so bad, it’ll begin to affect the human race, as well.

Plastic is a useful material but it’s a dangerous component made of toxic chemicals  known to cause illness and pose dangers to the animals that accidentally ingest it.

Plastic, though durable, is not biodegradable, and it causes great harm to our environment in the form of air, water, and land pollution.

There are ways to combat this, though. Slow down, take a breath, and consider the ways you can fight plastic pollution in the ocean. Take time combing your local beach to pick up litter that may have made its home in the sand. Get involved with an organization that’s dedicated to fighting water pollution, and make tiny changes in your daily routine (like cutting out plastic completely) to make the difference the oceans need.

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