One of the saddest facts concerning plastic pollution in our oceans and rivers is that many marine organisms simply can’t tell the difference between plastic and food. These animals then fills their stomachs with indigestible plastic and thus starve to death suffering to unending hunger because they cannot eat. 92% of all marine life which encounters ocean debris is exposed to plastic and 10% of these ingest the plastic.
Both entanglement with plastic debris and the ingestion of plastic and microplastic wreak widespread havoc on the ecosystem.
Shocking Death Statistics
With the weight of plastic soon rising to match the total weight of all marine life in the ocean by 2050, death statics due to marine plastic exposure is shocking beyond words. To give you rough idea of the widespread fatalities plastic pollution causes, here are a few metrics behind the murder:
It has been determined that approximately 100 MILLION marine animals are killed by plastics during the course of each year.
34% of all dead leatherback sea turtles are found to have ingested plastic due to the way that plastic bags resemble jellyfish causing in excess of 1,000 deaths per year.
Plastic kills 40% of young sea turtle hatchlings who are four times more likely to be killed than their adult counterparts
Between all marine mammals and turtles, 100,000 deaths occur from marine litter each year
Approximately 1 million sea birds die from eating plastic through the course of each year
The Consumption of Plastic Waste
Sperm whales (and others) wash up on beaches across the world being poisoned by toxic biproducts of plastic and microplastic. A beached whale washed up on the shores of Spain in early 2018 with 64 pounds of plastic waste found in its stomach, while during the year a pilot whale is southern Thailand died after swallowing 80 plastic bags weighing a total of 18 pounds.
A piece of plastic as small as a chocolate wrapper can prove fatal to mammals such as young seal cubs when swallowed and its almost inevitable that most marine life will encounter plastic waste at some point.
Consuming plastic waste causes the creature to die a slow agonizing death during which its last days are hopeless as it has no urge to eat yet remains hungry, suffering the many ill-effects of being poisoned by toxic biproducts.
The Destruction of Coral
Even coral is at an increased risk of disease thanks to plastic pollution. Coral reefs carry the beauty of rich underwater cities filled with all forms of sea life. Yet, their importance lies in the Earth’s ecosystem, with everything from microorganisms to fish, turtles and dolphins depending on the reefs. Acting as the ocean’s water filtration system, coral reefs are the reason that we have clean-clear water clarity near shorelines.
They also protect shorelines from surge water and storms, stabilizing everything from seagrass to mangrove forests. Despite 25% of all marine life resulting from home roots of coral reefs around the world, the risk of diseases rises from 4% to 89% after exposure to plastic. It also damages the skin of coral further increasing the risk of additional diseases being contracted.
Marine Plastic Toxins Carried from Oceans to Land Mammals by Mosquitoes
Just when the world is realizing the true magnitude of marine plastic pollution, microplastics have found yet another way to make their way into other food chains. Mosquito larvae have been discovered to be ingesting plastic particles while water-dwelling. Those same particles then stick to the insect as it transitions into a flying mosquito.
Serving as food for birds and bats, microplastics from the ocean are now even ending up in the food chain of land animals. This process is known as ontogenic transference and the phenomenon has only recently been discovered with the widespread affects mainly unknown. Researchers have begun to question which other flying insects carry microplastics in a similar way. Plastic pollution is now an issue for sea, land and air.
It Starts with You
Animals, plants and all forms of life will continue to suffer under the stifling effects of plastic waste and its biproducts for as long as we pollute our environment. Plastics exposure organisms to pathogens which they are simply unprepared to deal with. The world has begun to awaken to the widespread affects which plastic pollution has on our health and planet although being conscious of the issue is not alone enough to fix the problem.
An act as simple as tidying up at a local outdoor point of interest helps the local wildlife while cutting down on the use of plastic is the only way to slow process of pollution on a global scale.