What Will You Choose? — Short Story on Plastic in Our Oceans

Co-written by Ellen Cheng and Grace Yu

This material is for educational purposes only, and was created under fair use, for EPSS 15 at UCLA. It is not created for commercial gain.

The water is calm, as always, as you swim about in search for the day’s meal.

There! You spot a familiar white, almost translucent floating shape. You rush forward eagerly at the opportunity that you can finally satisfy your grumbling stomach.

Your prey remains drifting in the same spot, blissfully unaware of its impending fate.

A little closer….just a little closer…

Almost there…

You swim swiftly and quietly, being careful not to startle your target. But it seems that today must be your lucky day, since the jellyfish does not show signs of escaping.

You sink your teeth into its slimy flesh hungrily, taking care to close your eyes in case it attempts to defend itself with venom. It tastes somewhat different from usual, but you are too hungry to be picky. Food is food, no?

You finish devouring the jellyfish in a few more large gulps, ignoring the foreign texture and taste. Just then, something else catches your eye — a little distance away you see a few more slow-moving shapes.

More jellyfish? You wonder if you are being too greedy, but your current priority is to eat as much as you possibly can, as it is not always so easy to come across food. Plus, it just so happens that jellyfish is your favorite.

You eagerly swim toward them. Like the last one, they do not seem particularly alert nor eager to defend themselves.

Today is almost too good to be true, you muse.

There are three. You catch all of them fairly quickly, and happily gobble them down. You feel full and satisfied, knowing that you may now rest easy.


You feel sick.

What is wrong? All you did was eat jellyfish.

You do not feel hungry, yet you feel weak. Should you eat more?

There is intense pain in your stomach, and you begin to panic, but there is no one to help you.

Sea turtle eating a plastic bag

Half of the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic at some point during their lives.

Resting peacefully on the shore, you look up as the gleaming sun shines above the ocean. The way the light caresses the blankets of waves brings you a sense of safety and comfort. You are in your element. You are home. You feel your eyes get heavy as the calming rays brush their warmth against your skin.

Fantasies of endless anchovy, lobster, and your favorite salmon invade your dreams. You drool a little. It’s been awhile since your last meal. Food seems to have been scarce recently.

Just as you are about to bite into that soft, melting, salmon, you abruptly are awaken — confused and disappointed.

You look around and stare at the brown pebbles beneath your head. Grey clouds gather above. “Where did the salmon go?” you think somberly, still in a dream-like state.

Your stomach groans and churns at nothing and your desires grow larger. Unable to ignore the constrictions forming deep within your belly you plunge straight into the ocean, determined to turn your dream into reality.

You swim around earnestly looking right and left, up and down. When — suddenly something bright red and grey darts through your vision. Just like your dream, excited, you dash towards your first meal in ages.

As you reach out to the salmon, you stop. A tight, gripping sensation around your neck prevents you from swimming any further. You rasp. It hurts.

You try to free yourself from the burning pain, yanking, screaming, struggling. With one final pull, you finally swim away, back to the shore; the new memories of pain taking over the sweet fantasies you had before.

As you start to feel safe again, you realize it’s still suffocating you; the more you try to take it off, the more it digs its plastic nails into your skin. It feels as if the pain will stay with you forever. You lie against the damp sand as your mouth becomes dry despite the rain washing over you.

As you watch the water fall from the sky you stop blinking. As your thought begin to fade away you can only wonder, “When will this end?”

Endangered seals often get trapped in plastic ropes and nets.

Your children cry to you as you nuzzle them gently. You see their swollen eyes and their thin frames shaking against the unforgiving winds of the sea. “Today, today is the day you will come home with something. If you don’t…” You shudder and stretch your wings.

Your youngest one presses her head against your belly and you brush her with your beak. The ground quivers as you take off and you focus your eyes on your journey ahead. You are alone today.

Despite the coldness at home, the day grows bright. The skies are calm and the white air around you feels light. Even though it has been empty for months, your stomach feels full. You don’t think to much about it, but it feels like there’s something you can look forward to.

As your eyes scan over the blue blankets of water below, you see a group of something round, orange, and sparkling. This is it! You stretch your legs as you dip down and scoop them into your mouth. It tastes different. You swallow and begin your flight home.

The ground shakes once again as you look at your little ones. You carefully pick up the remaining feathers of your youngest and toss the bloodied parts of the nest. Your oldest coos as she settles next to me. She opens her mouth and we share our first meal. Your stomach feels full again.

And it did not stop feeling full. Even on the days where the waters were plentiful, you and your daughter could not seem to swallow anything more than a scale. Our stomachs always had something but bodies felt empty. However, life goes on and we must survive.

You stretch your wings again and watch as several of your feathers fluttered to the floor below. As you take off, the rocks below start to spin. The ground gets closer and closer no matter how much you fight against the wind. Everything aches and your head goes blank as your body cracks against the edge. The weight in your stomach jumps at the impact and you feel it squelch against your insides. A warm metal liquid bubbling forms in your throat as your eyes build up a glaze. As you are pulled into the welcoming blue blankets below, you use your last thoughts to look back. You can’t fathom where you went wrong… all you did was try to survive.

Plastic builds up in sea birds’ stomachs, leading to false feelings of satiation and eventual death from malnutrition.

Imagine yourself at the beach on a hot summer day with your friends. After eating lunch, you notice that there are plastic ziplock bags and pieces of aluminum foil strewn everywhere. Your friends are getting up to go swim and wade around in the water.

“Come on!” they beckon to you, and you hesitate, looking back at all the litter that you left.

Imagine yourself in a public restroom. You realize that you still have a candy wrapper from lunch that you forgot to throw away earlier. The toilet catches your eye — you look back and forth between it and the wrapper in your hand.

These little decisions are everywhere, every day. You are but one person, but you have the ability to affect millions of marine organisms by simply choosing to be more mindful of where you dispose of your plastic wastes. Many times, a mere ten seconds of your time could potentially be the difference between life and death for a sea turtle, penguin, or dolphin.

So the next time you encounter such a situation, stop and ask yourself:

What will you choose?

Additional Statistics for marine species affected by plastic pollution

Works Cited

Amaral, Kimberly. “Plastics in Our Oceans.” Plastics in Our Oceans. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Knoblauch, Jessica A. “The Environmental Toll of Plastics.” Environmental Health News. Environmental Health News, 2 July 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Mayne, Troy. Sea Turtle Eating Plastic. Digital image. Californians Against Waste. N.p., 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

“OCEAN PLASTICS POLLUTION:A Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life.” Ocean Plastics Pollution. Center for Biological Diversity, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

“Percentage of Marine Species Worldwide Ingesting or Entangled in Plastic.” New Internationalist Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

Sea Bird Eating Plastic. Digital image. National Geographic. N.p., 2 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

Seal Caught in Plastic. Digital image. Ocean Recover. N.p., 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.