When you think of the oceans, what do you see? Crystal blue waters, flourishing marine ecosystems, exquisite corals and diverse animal life? Or do you imagine a gigantic rubbish dump? Unfortunately, humankind is increasingly using the oceans as the latter – a quick disposal destination for waste. Many may not be aware of this, nor have an understanding of why this is so damaging to the oceans, marine life, and even to humans and the entire planet itself.
It is estimated that 350kg of plastic enters the ocean every second, and plastic isn’t the only culprit. What are the types of waste in the ocean adding to the loss of our marine ecosystems?
Oil can enter the ocean in a number of different ways including from the oil industry (oil spills), marine transport (ships), land based sources (wash off) and lastly natural sources. Oil is very harmful to all marine life and can cause harmful effects on ecosystems.
The organic matter found in sewerage creates an ideal environment for harmful bacteria and algae to thrive, these are harmful for our fragile ecosystems and human health
Many of our mining and industrial areas are often found along river systems and use water in their production processes. Large amounts of chemicals remain in this water and it get washed out to sea .
Farmers will use fertilizers and pesticides on their crops in order to make them produce a big crop that has not been eaten by insects, bacteria or fungi. During heavy rains these chemicals often run off into river systems and are swept out to sea.
One of the biggest contributors to marine pollution is solid waste. This includes items such as rubber, glass and plastics that make their way into the ocean through rivers, wind and poor waste management. The largest contributor to this solid waste is plastic and it is very quickly putting our marine ecosystem at risk and destroying them.
It is estimated that 350kg of plastic waste is entering the ocean ever second, that is the equivalent of two and half African elephants worth of plastic every minute. This problem is only going to get worse and if things do not change by 2045 (only 28 years from now) there could be as much at 600kg of waste entering the ocean every second.
Narrated diagram of river system with plastic near banks, rain washing plastic into river, river washing plastic out to sea.
When our rubbish is not get managed properly we often have overflowing waste dumps. With so many loose pieces of rubbish wind will blow bits away from the dump and rain will send loose pieces towards the river systems. These bits of waste will often end up in our oceans.
Narrated diagram of ships travelling across the ocean and dumping plastic into the sea.
So what does all this plastic in our ocean mean to us? In time plastic breaks down into tiny pieces called microplastics. These microplastics enter the food chain via filter feeders and fish and accumulate in animals digestive systems as they go up the food chain. Once the food chain has reached a stage where humans are eating from it (such as a fish) there is a large build up of toxins in the meat because of microplastics. This can be very unhealthy for humans and lead to medicinal conditions.
We are not the only one that are suffering because of all the plastic in the ocean. Many marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals will get tangled in plastic and lose a limb or drown.
Other marine animals such as turtles will confuse plastic with food. Some animals will clog up their stomach and intestines causing them to starve.
It is easy to see that something needs to be done as soon as possible to decrease the amount of plastic in our oceans. Although large oceans clean ups are a great way of getting rid of the plastic already in our seas they are often expensive and not getting to the root of the problem.
The best way to tackle the marine plastic problem starts with you!