Defining the Problem
Plastic pollution is a global epidemic and considered one of three top concerns for ocean health. There is a growing awareness of the impacts of plastic pollution and some societies are beginning to take action to curb them. However, the volume of plastics produced far out paces the efforts to reduce the damage they inflict on the natural world and is increasing every year.
For the time being plastics are a part of human existence. Over the last 60 years civilization has created a legacy of plastic debris that exists in even the most remote and unpopulated shorelines of the planet. Even if we stop all plastic production today, the damage exists and the nature of plastic insures that it will continue to exist for thousands of years.
That is unacceptable and we can do something about it.
Sources of the Debris
It has been reported in the press that 20% of marine plastic comes from ocean activities with 80% originating on land.
Regardless of statistics the truth of the matter is WE put it there WE need to clean it up.
We do know that polluted waterways are a major source of marine plastic. As rainwater washes into gutters and storm drains, it carries with it what humans have left behind. In addition to discarded trash there is a dangerous cocktail of chemicals spilling into our oceans; petroleum products from our cars, pesticides and fertilizers from agriculture, manure from stockyards and human waste and pharmaceutical residue from overloaded sewage systems.
Among the many chemical and biological toxins found floating in the ocean, scientists have identified a number of particularly harmful compounds called “persistent organic pollutants” or POPs, and exposure can cause disruption of the endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems.
Floating plastics attract POPs from surrounding water like a magnet and accumulate and transport them around the globe in levels up to a million times higher than in surrounding sea water. These are known to be harmful to animals and humans when ingested.
Derelict fishing equipment is also found in the world’s oceans. Designed to catch and kill fish it presents a lethal obstacle for animals that encounter it.
“Ghost-Nets” stretch for miles and pose navigational hazards to shipping too.
Plastic in the Food Web
As plastic breaks up into smaller pieces it makes its way into the food web. Many animals mistake these small, colorful pieces of plastic for food. The animal’s stomachs fill with plastic, which can’t be digested. These animals slowly starve because they don’t feel hungry.
Seabirds like the Laysan Albatross are particularly vulnerable to plastic ingestion. Once the animal dies and decomposes the plastic is released to continue causing harm.
Implications for Humanity
Plastic pollution does reach food consumed by humans. There is growing evidence that toxins associated with plastic in the oceans are responsible for human health problems such as cancers, brain, reproductive and cardiovascular damage.