The Effect of Plastic Pollution on Marine Life

Plastic products play an essential role in people’s lives around the globe. It is beneficial because of its durable quality, plus the fact that the material isn’t heavy. However, the durability of plastic and its ability to float on the water can present danger to marine life. For people living on coastlines, taking a stroll along the beaches paints a clear picture of people’s staggering addiction to the use of plastics. We can observe the adverse effects of plastic on marine life through several sea animal carcasses lying along the beaches. According to a Plymouth University study, plastic pollution affects 700 marine species. Other estimates imply the death of at least 100 million marine animals annually, due to plastic pollution.

The Species Most Affected by Plastic Pollution in Marine Life

Several species of animals are dying as a result of plastic pollution in marine life. The list is so long that we cannot exhaust it in one article, but below is a discussion of the most affected marine species:

Body of death fish

1. Fish

Fish and marine mammals that take in water through their gills increasingly face a risk of being affected by minute plastic debris. A research conducted by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom suggests that it is more difficult for an animal to dispose of waste taken in from their gills, compared to debris taken orally.

Besides the severe impacts of plastic pollution in various species of fish, the effect also spills over to humans because they consume fish. Several types of research indicate that sea animals consumed by humans, like perch, brown trout, and Cisco, have ingested microfibers of plastic nature. Plastic pollution in marine life ultimately affects every link in the food chain.

The New York Times decided to conduct a study aimed at calculating the amount of plastic waste finding its way into the bodies of fish. The findings indicated that 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic waste ends up in fish in the North Pacific Ocean alone. In all, the debris affects 9 percent of the fish in the North Pacific. The study did not include the fish that have died as a result of swallowing plastic or those unaffected by plastic passing through their system. Therefore, the quantity of fish affected by plastic pollution is even higher.

Beautiful sea hawksbill

2. Sea Turtles

Every year, several immature and adult turtles are injured or die as a result of commercial fishing and plastic pollution. Like other marine species, the sea turtles ingest plastic waste, erroneously thinking that it is a viable source of food. The intake of plastic waste may lead to blockages in the turtle’s digestive system, which may, in turn, lead to death. Even though the decline in the population of wild sea turtles is the result of various factors including human exploitation, plastic pollution also immensely affects the turtle population.

Separate studies conducted in 2013 imply that about 50 percent of sea turtles swallow plastic at an alarming rate, ultimately dying as a result. Another study indicated that 15 percent of young turtles had ingested massive quantities of plastic, leading to the obstruction of their digestive systems.

sperm whale carcasses stranded

3. Dolphins and Whales

Like the sea turtle and other marine mammals, whales mistakenly swallow plastic waste thinking they are a potential source of food. Due to the large size of whales’ mouths, they unintentionally pick up plastic debris as food. Examinations of various whales indicated increased amounts of plastic waste in their bodies.

According to studies, plastic pollution has negatively affected several species of cetaceans in the last two decades. The obstructions often puncture and tear their stomach lining, which may lead to starvation and death. The Marine Pollution Bulletin indicates that cetaceans swallow plastic debris at an alarming rate of 31 percent. Twenty-two percent of these animals are also at risk of losing their lives as a result of plastic pollution.

Seal Sea Lion breathing

4. Sea Lions and Seals

Plastic debris like fishing lines, lures, and nets largely entangle sea lions and seals. Plastic packing bands and bags can also entrap seals and sea lions, leading to injury and even death. Unaware of the impending harm, young sea lions and seals play with waste deposited in the seas and oceans. If the debris wraps around the animals’ necks, they may injure them and cause horrific wounds that expose the animals to infections. The seas are a dangerous place as it is, and the effects of plastic pollution in marine life only make it scarier.

Rubber and plastic packing bands affect Steller Sea Lions most of all. Monitoring conducted for eight years in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska indicated that plastic debris trapped 388 sea lions. This waste can lead to severe infection and even death.

Seagull with plastic glass

5. Sea Birds

Every year, debris injures and kills millions of species of marine birds, one of the populations most affected by plastic pollution in marine life. The most affected type of bird is the Laysan albatross. They’re in danger because of their hunting techniques, which involve diving into the ocean to catch fish, squid, and other foods. The birds skim the water surface using their beaks, and they end up picking plastic waste along the way. Shockingly, estimates are that 98 percent of Laysan albatross swallow plastic debris. Ingestion of the plastic obstructs the digestive tract, leading to punctures in the internal organ of the bird.

Plastic pollution also negatively impact pelicans, gulls, and other marine birds. These birds often mistake plastics for insects, carrion or dead fish. They eat these plastics and sometimes find themselves entangled in them.


It is evident that plastic pollution negatively impacts almost every living organism in the seas and oceans across the world. It is essential for human beings to try to balance the ecosystem to improve the quality of life in the seas and oceans. We should minimize the use of plastics and try to recycle waste as much as possible. Plastic waste in water emanates from land, where it is washed away from the beaches to the open sea. It is, therefore, the responsibility of everyone to ensure we protect marine life from plastic pollution.

Plastic pollution in marine life is just one of the many issues our planet faces on a daily basis. At Pegasus Foundation, our number one concern is preserving our beautiful Earth and all its species. Our goal is to do so by helping non-profit organizations organize partnerships and educate the public to build a more conscientious world. Contact us to find out how you can help!