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Plastic Marine Debris Overtaking our Oceans

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Living in a world where from the moment that you wake up you are surrounded by plastic in everything you touch like the toothpaste cap, my hairbrush or comb, the keyboard from my computer, my hair clip. Almost everything I touch is made of plastic and this has been a daily occurrence since I was an infant drinking milk from a plastic bottle as I played with my plastic rattle. However, before this research I had not actually stopped to realize how much of an impact plastic pollution has not only on our lives, but in this case the marine population and our ecosystem as a whole. Honestly, I had not even stopped to consider much less wonder, where does all this plastic go after we throw it out.

Plastic is made to last and items made of plastic are made durable so that they can be used repeatedly. This is partly why it is so hard to combat a problem involving items the population as a whole has become so dependent on a daily basis to utilize. I did find it ironic that an average plastic bag is used for only 5 to 12 minutes yet it can last a lifetime in the ocean adding to the problem of pollution. Plastic bags are not biodegradable meaning that bacteria cannot decompose it like food waste (Schultz,. 2018). So, with time a plastic bag will begin degrading into tiny pieces that can harm our environment. Plastic is potentially harmful if swallowed by animals thinking it was food or even a plastic bag around an infant thinking it’s a toy and he accidently swallows a piece or places it on his head and suffocates, causing harm or even worse their death. These are daily struggles the marine population has to face on a daily basis when their home is being invaded by plastic garbage that is not being disposed of properly finding its way into the oceans. To tackle the issue, we must first address the plastic that we are using everyday, especially the disposable kind that ends up in landfills and oceans, where it damages our environment (Schultz,. 2018).

The crisis presently occurring involving plastic pollution is that 60-90% of marine debris is considered to be of plastic origin, which is about a bit over 9 million metric tons of plastic that is currently still flowing into the oceans. This amount of plastic equals to about 5-6 grocery bags of plastic for each foot of seashore, which is quite alarming. The main source of this plastic pollution affecting our oceans is the litter coming from consumer packaging and products, a category that includes beverage bottles, shopping bags, bottle caps, food containers, straws, cigarette butts, and cling wrap. Another source greatly impacting the plastic waste in the ocean is the lost and discarded fishing gear. These plastic waste products that are consuming our oceans are categorized into two types of microplastics depeding on their size. If the plastic filling our oceans does not break apart into pieces smaller than 5 mm in size known as secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics referes to debris that is already under 5 mm in diameter when it enters the ocean. Of the two types the one that is found in more abundance as comprise as much as one-quarter of annual marine plastic pollution such as microbeads, fibers and fragments is primary microplasts. These tend to flow into the ocean from inland rivers and coastal runoffs .

Two more huge sources dealing with microplastic pollution are (1) the washing of synthetic clothes such polyester and nylon and (2) the wear-and-tear of synthetic rubber tires which together account for two-thirds of the primary microplastic. Along with these two there is concern with another source called plastic ‘dust’ of citylife, which is from the running shoes and artificial turf. In addition to all these mentioned a recent concern has surfaced involving the products that contain the plastic microbeads such as those found in cleansers and exfoliants in toothpaste which is also found in facewash (Dauvergne,. 2018).

Most of the plastic pollution being found in the ocean is in the form of tiny plastic fragments resulting from degraded fishing gear or plastic waste that is flowing into the sea from land. Ocean inhabitants such as sea turtles, marine mammals, fish and even seabirds are being harmed by ingesting these deadly plastic particles, which causes the synthetic chemicals from the plastic to accumulate in their bodies, more specifically in their gut. It is very easily for small fish that surface from the deeps of the ocean nocturnally to feed to mistake these contaminated plastic waste for food. So, if you consider the transfer of energy in the ecosystem, these small fish who fed on plastic would be consumed by larger predators and these toxins from the contaminated plastic waste would be working its way up the food chain with the last possible stop being our dinner plates. So, not only are these ocean inhabitants being affected but we too are taking unknown and unnecessary health risks as we dig in to our next “delicious” aquatic meal with an added spice of toxin on the side.

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