Plastic Waste and Marine Life

Plastic Waste and Marine Life

Plastic Waste and Marine Life, The Big Issue

Plastic Pollution is having a major environmental impact particularly on sea life and our coastlines. There are three major impacts on marine ecosystems:


Over 250 species have been known to have plastic in their bodies or become entangled in plastic (Laist, 1997)
Entanglement rates of up to 7.9% have been discovered in some species of seals and sea lions (Allsopp et al)
A UNEP report estimates that around 130,000 cetaceans are caught in nets each year (US EPA, 1992)

100 plus species of sea birds are known to ingest plastic bits and pieces (Laist, 1997)
According to Dr Jan Andries van Franeker, around 95% of Fulmers have plastic in their stomachs that affect them in chemical and physical ways
31 species of marine mammals are know to have eaten, often by accident, marine plastic (Allsopp et al)
Transport of Invasive Species

The increase in marine litter, especially plastics has resulted in a corresponding increase in species invasion (Allsopp et al)
Human made litter has resulted in a significant increase in the opportunities for the transportation of alien species
‘Biotic mixing’ as a result of human activities is becoming a widespread problem (Barnes, 2002)
The hard surfaces of plastic debris is providing an attractive and alternative substrate for a number of organisms. The introduction of non-endemic species can have a catastrophic impact on indigenous species and biodiversity and the increase in synthetic and non-biodegradable material pollution will accelerate the process.

Marine litter and in particular plastic waste, is a world wide problem. The vast majority of plastic waste is destined for landfill sites which limits the impact through ‘containment’ however does not solve the issue. A significant proportion of plastic gets into the water course and eventually ends up in the oceans. As might be expected the plastic waste on the coastlines is more prevalent around more populated coastal areas. However, once the plastic waste enters the oceans it is influenced by global currents that distribute it around the world.

Plastic has been found in all of the major oceans, not just areas of human activity, often travelling vast distances. It has no international boundaries and has invaded the remotest of places. 46% of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres. These ocean currents create zones of convergence where large mounts of plastic waste accumulates; much of this is particulate plastic that has been broken down through wind, wave and UV action over a period of time.

has been the focus of the majority of research, however, studies in other oceans show that concentrations of plastic waste are at a similar level
Media descriptions of a solid mass of plastic twice the size of France in the Pacific are misleading. The majority of the plastic in these areas are small particles, creating a ‘soup’ of waste
The area that we know least about is the Indian Ocean, however, we do know that the region has developed a high concentration of plastic waste over a very short space of time. Academics believe that it is likely to get worse as the population of the region continues to grow along with a more consumer orientated economy. (Allsopp et al)
The fact is that it doesn’t matter where you live, plastic waste is pervasive, pernicious and persistent. It reaches every part of the planet and it is all of our responsibilities to resolve this issue.

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