Globe, Lifestyle, Okology, United Kingdom

Plastic’s devastating effect on marine life

Plastic production is increasing: it stands at around 300 million tonnes a year, and yet only half is reusable or recyclable.

 

Odalys Troya Flores

 

As a result, more than nine million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea each year, the equivalent of a bin lorry full of plastic every minute.

Healthy oceans are essential to humanity; they regulate climate and global warming, produce half of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, and absorb 25% of CO2 emissions. Thus, they are the foundation for the balance of climate change and world food security.

Taking care of planet earth, her seas and oceans is a priority for Caribbean countries, considered amongst the most vulnerable to climate change, and any action towards this objective is much more than just a concern.

Thousands of tonnes of various-sized plastics contaminate the oceans, with a devastating effect on marine life and birds, and, being at the top of the ecological pyramid, on human beings themselves.

It is calculated that between 15% and 40% of the world’s plastic ends up in the seas each year.

In 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stated that at least 6.4 million tonnes of plastic end up in the seas each year. Today, it puts this figure at more than 8 million tonnes.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, two decades ago a submarine descended to the depths of the Mariana Trench in the middle of the Western Pacific, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, at 10,988 metres deep.

There it found a plastic bag. Scientists believe that this was the first piece of plastic waste to be found at such a depth, and that it will take between 400 and 1,000 years to degrade.

But enormous patches, or islands, of plastic waste can also be found on the surface, with some covering areas of more than 1.6 million square kilometres.

Every year, around 13 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean and according to UNEP, this is the equivalent of emptying the contents of a bin lorry in the ocean every minute.

Chlorinated plastics can release harmful chemicals into the soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources.

Likewise, nurdles, a type of microplastic used to make plastic products, are often traded on cargo ships.

A significant amount is dumped in the oceans, and it has been estimated that at a global level, nurdles make up approximately 10% of the waste found on beaches.

In general, plastics take years to degrade in the oceans, and they don’t do so completely; during this process certain toxic chemicals, such as Bisphenol A and polystyrene, may be released into the waters.

Pieces of polystyrene and nurdles are the most common types of plastic pollution and, together with plastic bags and food containers, they make up the vast majority of the rubbish in oceans.

Plastic pollution can potentially poison animals, which could negatively affect food supply for humans. It is also highly damaging for large marine mammals, and some species, such as sea turtles, have been found to have large quantities of plastics in their stomachs.

In such cases, they generally die of hunger because the plastic blocks their digestive system. On other occasions, marine animals end up tangled in plastic products such as nets, which can harm them, and even result in their death.

Combatting the scourge of pollution has become a priority for some governments, environmental organisations and the UN. The health of the seas and oceans, as well as human survival, depend on its eradication. (PL)

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: rebeccandhlovu@hotmail.co.uk)

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