The planet’s human population are disposing of over eight million tons of plastic waste annually. By the year 2050, the weight of discarded plastics into the earth’s oceans will outweigh all of the fish and sea life that it inhabits. That weight on the world is one that is avoidable if we act now.
Conserving biodiversity in the sea by limiting dry-land sourced plastics is imperative to sustaining homeostasis in the high and deep seas. Our entire ecosystem is dependent on the health of the resilient, yet fragile body of water that covers the planet. All hands on deck are required to curb the human-made pollution problem, from the macro-level of governments and corporations to the micro-level or coastal communities and individuals themselves. Fortunately, there is a rising global awareness to protect the ocean from such contamination, but time is running out.
Organizations like the United Nations and their forthcoming Conservation Treaty for the High Seas, expected to be finalized sometime in 2020, are implementing measures to protect marine life and the integrity of the ocean. This call to action is a step in the right direction. However, one should pair any optimism on a complete course correction of widespread concern, with a grain of sand.
The dilemma with plastics:
In some estimates, there are over 50 trillion tons of plastics pieces currently in the seas that span the globe. Productions of plastics are set to increase up to 40 percent due to demand and the adoption of western ways of life in developing countries. Around 80 percent of marine debris pollution comes from land-sourced materials.
Plastics are durable, lightweight, moisture-resistant, and produced at a low cost. Plastic materials add convenience to our lives, but they degrade at a snail’s pace, and when disregarded into our oceans, they are a severe crisis to the planet. Plastics can serve as toxic sponges when carrying chemicals, which makes them even more dangerous to ocean life. Additionally, plastic’s buoyancy allows it to travel far distances, which escalates the issue of containment and removal.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch gyre is a massive growing pile of plastic debris and marine pollution. Found somewhere between the coasts of California and Hawaii, the floating barrage of plastics waste stretches nearly 600,000 sq miles across, which is almost double the size of the state of Texas. Sadly, this isn’t the only oceanic plastic gyres, five others exist, with more likely discovered soon.
The life costs of plastic:
Entanglement or ingestion of ocean plastic debris can cost sea animals their lives. Plastics kills millions of fish and sea birds a year, as well as over 100,000 marine mammals yearly.
Sea turtles often confuse discarded plastics in the ocean as food and can choke, starve, or sustain fatal injuries from the plastics. Plastic straws are notorious for clogging a turtle’s nose, causing it to suffocate. Mid-water fishes and various plankton consume plastic pieces at an alarming rate, which can lead to death but also affects the food chain in the ecosystem with the introduction of toxic materials.
Sea lions, numerous species of seals, whales, and dolphins, are sustaining an onslaught of hazards with plastic pollution. Ghost nets can trap, drown, lacerate, and suffocate these aquatic mammals. Ingestion is as equally as lethal for these creatures as it can restrict airflow or fill the stomach of said animals. Sea birds starve to death due to the ingestion of plastics as it overwhelms the volume capacity of the stomach without passing through their digestive tract. Coral reefs are also in danger of plastic pollution. Abandoned fishing gear and nets can detach part of the coral. Plastic debris like bags can smother them and also block the sun’s rays, which is paramount for its survival.
Reversing the damage done to the sea from plastic pollution is unlikely a successful pursuit. But conserving it can be done through continued legislation of coastal governments, public education and an endless awareness to the mainstream collective consciousness to what’s at stake.
More more information on how you can help keep our oceans clean check out Call of the Blue.