Plastic pollution in the ocean has become a critical issue, with an estimated eight million metric tonnes of plastic entering the oceans each year. 90% of this plastic waste comes from just ten rivers, with discarded fishing gear, plastic bottles and bags, and microplastics being among the most common culprits. Plastic debris in ocean gyres creates large “garbage patches”, of which the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the best-known example. The accumulation of plastic can have profound effects on marine life, causing digestive issues, starvation, and entanglement, and also poses risks to human health. Measures to reduce single-use plastics and encourage responsible fishing practices are recommended.
Plastic Pollution in Oceans Reaches Crisis Point
In recent years, we have seen the serious issue of plastic pollution in our oceans come to light. From large ocean gyres filled with plastic debris to fish and whale stranding on shorelines with their stomachs full of plastic, the consequences of our overuse of single-use plastics have become evident.
The Extent of Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans
It is estimated that around eight million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. In fact, a recent study has found that 90% of all plastic waste in the ocean comes from just ten rivers. The majority of this plastic waste is due to marine litter, which includes discarded fishing gear, plastic bottles and bags, and microscopic plastics known as microplastics.
The accumulation of plastic debris in ocean gyres has received a lot of attention in recent years. These ocean currents trap plastic debris in a centralised area, creating large plastic islands that have been referred to as “garbage patches”. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California, is one of the largest and best-known examples of this phenomenon.
The Impact of Plastic Pollution on the Environment
Plastic pollution causes significant harm to marine ecosystems. Marine mammals, fish, and birds often mistake plastic debris for food, leading to digestive issues and starvation. The effects of microplastics on marine life are not fully understood, but studies have suggested that these tiny particles can be ingested by marine life, entering the food chain and eventually ending up on our plates.
The accumulation of plastic debris in the ocean also affects human health. Plastic debris releases toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates into the water, which can be harmful to human health when ingested.
What Can We Do to Reduce Plastic Pollution?
A range of measures can be implemented to reduce plastic pollution. These include:
- Reducing single-use plastics: The use of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, straws, and water bottles should be discouraged through initiatives such as plastic bag taxes and the promotion of reusable alternatives.
- Improving waste management: Improved waste management practices can reduce the amount of plastic waste that enters the oceans. This includes initiatives such as recycling programs and improvements in landfill management.
- Encouraging responsible fishing: Discarded fishing gear forms a significant proportion of plastic debris in the ocean. Encouraging responsible fishing practices, such as the use of biodegradable fishnets, can reduce this problem.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic less than 5mm in size. These particles enter the ocean through a range of sources, including the breakdown of larger plastic debris, personal care products, and synthetic textiles.
Why is plastic debris harmful to marine life?
Marine life often mistakes plastic debris for food, leading to digestive issues and starvation. Additionally, plastic debris can entangle marine life, leading to injury or death.
What impact does plastic pollution have on human health?
Plastic debris releases toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates into the water, which can be harmful to human health when ingested.