Plastic Pollution Affects Sea Life
Plastic products have become a staple of modern life. Plastics are lightweight and durable. This makes plastic useful to people but dangerous to sea life. Marine animals such as fish, sea birds, and sea turtles can ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, injuring or killing them. In recent decades, plastic pollution in the ocean environment has killed a shocking number of marine animals. A Plymouth University study found that plastic waste affects 700 different marine species. Plastic pollution has battered some animals especially hard.
Countless seabirds ingest small pieces of plastic called microplastics every year. According to one study, 9 out of 10 marine birds have eaten plastic waste at least once in their lives. Birds can choke, be injured internally and die, or starve by thinking they’re full from eating plastic. It has become a common occurrence to find dead seabirds with stomachs filled with plastic. This indicates a proliferation of plastic garbage in our oceans.
Some birds ingest plastics as they dive into the ocean, searching for fish and other food. Other seabird species skim the water surface with their beaks for food, picking up plastic debris along the way. Plastic waste can also kill species such as gulls and pelicans when they plunge beneath the surface and become entangled with plastic debris.
Sea turtles can mistake floating plastic waste for food and attempt to eat it. Like birds, sea turtles are at risk of choking, internal injuries or starvation if they ingest plastic waste. Research suggests that sea turtles with just 14 pieces of microplastics in their digestive systems are up to 50% more likely to die. Sea turtles can also become entangled in plastic garbage such as fishing nets. On some beaches, plastic waste is so widespread that the garbage is altering the temperatures of the beach sand. This has negative effects on sea turtle egg incubation rates.
Fish are especially at risk of harm from microplastics because they take in water through gills. The University of Exeter in the United Kingdom published a study suggesting that waste captured in gills is more harmful than waste taken in by mouth.
A study reported by the New York Times found that fish of the North Pacific Ocean consume between 12,000 and 24,000 tons of plastic waste each year. It is estimated that plastic debris has affected almost 10 percent of all North Pacific Ocean fish.
The harmful effects of plastic waste continue up the food chain as bigger fish, marine mammals and even humans consume fish that have ingested microplastics. The entire food chain is under threat from plastic waste in sea life.
Whales and Dolphins
Whales, like other marine animals, may also mistake plastic waste for a potential food source. Whales also have been known to inadvertently eat plastic waste while scooping up fish with their enormous mouths. During some postmortem examinations of whales, researchers have found plastic waste throughout their digestive systems.
It is no secret that dolphins are highly intelligent. As such, they are less likely to eat plastic. However, they are susceptible to plastic waste through prey that have eaten microplastics.
Almost every species of sea life in the world’s oceans are adversely affected by plastic pollution. This causes a reduction in food availability for both marine life and for people. Humans, the source of this plastic waste, must take action to protect marine animals. Plastic waste must be stopped at its source before it even gets to the ocean.