We’re not talking plastic pop group here, rather the marine version and the chart they could top is as sufferers of plastic pollution. In his 65 years on this planet Stevie Wonder has recorded 10 US number ones, had nine children an 11 year old marriage and in those same 65 years plastic pollution has increased from 1.65 million tons to 300 million tons. Even more shocking is that all the plastic that entered the ocean in this time is still there. Why for so long has this catastrophic environmental issue been brushed aside? A major concern is that if this pollution continues for another 65 years we will watch marine creatures, such as the Sea Turtle, swim into the ocean of extinction, because of the ignorance of mankind.
With this article I wish to make this issue known and raise awareness of the consequences that dropping just one bottle into the ocean will make. We must remember that this one bottle is simply just another addition to the tsunami of bottles that have already been disposed of by some other individual. This naivety has appeared to stem serious gaps in knowledge in how this pollution is affecting marine species. As a result, Sarah Helms, from the Penryn campus of the University of Exeter, has urged that more research is carried out in order to evaluate the full extent of the problem.
You may be wondering why it is such an issue that sea turtles are at risk of extinction, well here are a few facts that may help you. Sea Turtles are one of the few animals that feed on jellyfish, and hence stop their species from spiralling out of control. As anyone who has been stung by a jellyfish will tell you, this is a significant benefit to the human population! Perhaps more importantly, Sea Turtles also act as grazing animals that cut the seagrass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass beds, therefore providing a vital element of the environments natural maintenance. As a result, sea turtles are not only majestic and adored creatures, but they also silently contribute to the maintenance of the natural world.
At the moment is has been found that plastic pollution is causing intestinal blockage when ingested by turtles. It further causes malnutrition, poor health, reduced growth rates, lower reproductive output and even death in worse conditions. These already identified effects of human activity are proving detrimental to a beloved species, and do we really want to be held responsible for their extinction? It is humans who use and then dump the plastic, and so is it really just that sea turtles suffer as a result? A major consequence of the pollution being of plastic is that is does not disintegrate easily, hence all the plastic currently in the sea will continue to pollute for a long time into the future. We may not be able to stop the pollution this will cause, but we can stop it from becoming any worse.
Image of an untouched landscape in North America. Plastics do decompose, though not fully, over a very long period of time. Furthermore, commercially available plastics (polyolefins like polyethylene, polypropylene, etc.) have been further made resistant to decomposition by means of additional stabilizers like antioxidants.
The Marine Conservancy has published that the estimated decomposition rates of most plastic debris found on coasts are:
- Foamed plastic cups: 50 years
- Plastic beverage holder: 400 years
- Disposable diapers: 450 year
- Plastic bottle: 450 years
- Fishing line: 600 years
Further Victims: Birds
Albatross and others birds are choosing plastic pieces because of their similarity to their own food as well. When plastic ingestion occurs, it blocks the digestive tract, gets lodged in animals windpipes cutting airflow and thus causes suffocation, or fills the stomach, resulting in malnutrition, starvation and potentially death. Indeed, it is found that debris often accumulates in the animals’ gut and give a false sense of fullness, causing the animal to stop eating, causing the bird to slowly and painfully starve to death.
Greenpeace have estimated that 70 percent of the mass of fragmented plastic present in the open oceans of the world sinks to the deep-sea bed.
Further Victims: Seals
Miles of discarded fishing nets derelicts nets, called ghost nets, snare and drown thousands of larger sea creatures per year; these include seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, dugons, crocodiles, seabirds, crabs, and other creatures. Acting as designed, these nets restrict movement causing starvation, laceration, infection, and, in animals that need to return to the surface to breathe, suffocation.