Plastic in the Ocean: What We Know and What To Do

Looking at statistics about plastic in the ocean is always gut-wrenching. A million seabirds die per year from plastic pollution, and all sea turtles have plastic in their stomach. Yet, plastic is everywhere in modern life today, from plastic straws and utensils to packaging and shopping bags. They seem so intrinsically entwined with our lifestyle that it feels impossible to imagine the world without them. However, it’s time we look at how plastic ends up in the ocean and its devastating effects.

The ocean is the beating heart of all life on Earth. It makes up 97% of all the water on the planet, regulates climate, absorbs carbon dioxide, and home to over 750,000 marine species. But if we continue to put eight million plastic pieces into the ocean every year, the damage will be beyond repair.

The latest data records that there are now 5.25 trillion plastic pieces in the ocean that weigh 269,000 tons in total. In a single day, up to 8 million pieces of plastic wind up in the deep blue. To put that into perspective, this is equivalent to the weight of 1,345 blue whales!

You can find plastic contamination even in the most remote waters and up to 11 km deep. Most of this waste is undetectable by the naked eye as different plastic forms have broken down into micro-sized fragments, sinking and floating around the seas.

You may be wondering how the plastic you use every day could end up in the ocean. From your toothbrush and makeup containers to cleaning products, these are just some examples of plastic in our daily lives.

More people recycle and sort their bins, but it’s not enough simply to think that you’ve disposed of your plastic waste correctly. Often, the endpoint is the same. Many of these plastics are not managed correctly and will arrive somewhere in the ocean, whether within a week or two years later.

The problem with plastic is that it can’t decompose. This waste may float or sink but will disrupt marine ecosystems all the same. As they break down due to waves and the weather, microplastics will spread all over the seas. In addition to your regular plastic products, plastic elements from fishing nets and synthetic clothing can also end up polluting the ocean.

We’ve seen how plastic ends up in the ocean, but how exactly do they affect it? In many ways, we mentioned earlier how seabirds and sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs. It is because these creatures mistake plastic for edible food. Unfortunately, eating plastic can lead to a lot of dangerous health problems, sometimes life-threatening.

Physically, plastic is also a nightmare for marine animals. Sea turtles fall victims to abandoned fishing nets and get tangled up in plastic debris that chokes them. Seabirds often have plastic pieces stuck around their beaks, necks, or legs.

Plastic in the ocean is not only harmful to sea animals but also humans. Fishes and creatures that feed on microplastics are also ingesting hazardous substances, thus becoming toxic themselves. When we are eating tuna or oysters, we are essentially putting the same toxins into our bodies. It can cause cancer and attack our immune system, among other health issues.

Talking about the amount of plastic waste in the ocean can be depressing, but it doesn’t have to be this way forever! There are ways we can work to undo our sins and prevent more plastic from entering the ocean.

For starters, consider going plastic-free in addition to embracing a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Reuse any plastic products that you may have or repurpose them into storage containers, pots, or crafting materials. Cutting down plastic usage is the single most productive way of saving our ocean.

If you live near the beach or are visiting one, join beach cleanups or organize your own. While it may sound trivial, it’s a brilliant way of cleaning up beaches and ensuring less plastic gets to pollute the sea. For example, the International Coastal Cleanup has gathered more than 220 pounds of trash across the globe.

It’s undeniable that plastic in the ocean has become an urgent problem because of us. Marine life is dying and suffering because of the choices that we have made. So, it only seems fair that we should be the solution.

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