Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Plastic is infecting our oceans

Our oceans are home to an array of species. They call it their home but we are turning it into a plastic soup. Plastic is literally everywhere. You are walking in a park or resting on a sofa, there’s plastic around you. There is no denying the fact that plastic has remarkably helped us in our daily lives and technological advancements. But let’s just not forget the harmful Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean.

Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Plastic has been detected on the shorelines of all continents and on the surface of oceans as floating debris. But this is just the small visible part of the whole plastic pollution dilemma. Sadly, all of the world’s major ocean gyres are flooded with plastic pollution. Great Pacific Garbage Patch, found in the north-central Pacific Ocean, is the largest of them all.

Let’s go through the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean.

Every piece of plastic ever manufactured still exists

The major threat of plastic comes from its insane durability as it doesn’t completely break down. Due to this reason, environmentalists have termed plastic as a non-biodegradable substance. According to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), every piece of plastic ever manufactured still exists. And it is just as horrible as it sounds. Moreover, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces over time and are called microplastics. Microplastics can easily enter the food chain and ultimately damage human health. Plastic may also contain certain chemicals that were added during its manufacture. These chemicals can capture and accumulate other contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, etc.

Read 13 reasons why plastic is bad and 4 product ideas that can replace plastic.

How does plastic enter the ocean?

One may question the entry routes of plastic pollution in the ocean. Ocean plastic pollution originates from either land-based or ocean-based sources. Land-based sources account for 80% of the plastic pollution in the ocean and include urban and storm runoffs, beach visitors, industrial activities, construction, inappropriate disposal and management of waste, illegal dumping, etc. The other 20% results from ocean-based sources such as ship discharges, fishing industry activities, etc.

Now that we have a basic understanding of ocean plastic pollution, let’s move towards the harmful Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean.

Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean.

The ocean environment is at an alarming state due to plastic pollution. From surface waters to the deep sea-sediments, plastic pollution accounts for 80% of the total marine debris. This not only affects the ocean environment but also the quality of food we eat and beach tourism. Here are 5 shocking Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean.

1. Effects on ocean wildlife

Plastic pollution poses serious threats to ocean wildlife in several ways. The most common consequences of marine plastic pollution are ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement. A large number of ocean animals have been dying as a result of macro and microplastic pollution (Read how to reduce microplastic pollution). Fish, sea turtles, whales, sea lions, sea birds, they are all becoming the victims of human-induced plastic pollution.

  • Fish:

    Fish are in great danger due to plastic pollution as they have to take water through their gills for breathing. Studies suggest that it is more difficult for fish to get rid of waste stuck in their gills as compared to the waste taken in by mouth. Fish life suffers when minute particles of plastic get stuck in their gills. In addition, the ingestion of plastic can cause intestinal injuries or even deaths. The problem magnifies when these fish become the prey of bigger fish or marine mammals. Many fish markets have reported the presence of plastic in their guts, mostly as microfibers.

  • Sea turtles:

    Sea turtles can mistakenly ingest floating plastic instead of food. This can lead to choking, internal injuries, reproductive issues, or even death. They may also die from starvation as they lose their appetite from ingesting plastic. Moreover, an unimaginable number of sea turtles are also injured and face death as a result of entanglement. Unfortunately, researchers have reported the ingestion of plastic by half of the sea turtles worldwide.

  • Dolphins and whales:

    Just like any fish or sea turtles in the ocean, dolphins and whales are also swallowing plastic along with their food. Whale, with its enormous mouth, can ingest a large amount of plastic waste. What are the chances for a whale to distinguish between plastic and jellyfish? Several examinations have testified the presence of plastic within the digestive systems of whales and dolphins.

  • Sea lions and seals:

    Even sea lions and seals aren’t safe from plastic pollution. Fishing lines/nets or any other plastic debris can entangle them and limit their locomotion. Young animals, unaware of the danger, may play with the plastic fragments. Upon swallowing, they can face serious injuries or infections.

  • Seabirds:

    Every year, hundreds and thousands of seabirds swallow plastic. They may capture plastic as they plunge dive into the ocean or skim the water surface through their beaks to capture prey. So as a result, they get injured and sometimes death may occur. Similar to other ocean wildlife, plastic ingestion also gives them the feeling of a full stomach and leads to starvation.

2. Effects on oceans ecosystem

An ocean ecosystem is in its healthiest state as long as it is balanced. But when there is any kind of interference (plastic pollution, in our case), disturbances occur in its natural functions. We have added so much plastic in our oceans that their ecosystems are collapsing. Small fish die as a result of ingesting plastic or getting tangled up which means a sudden drop in food availability for large fish. Similarly, any change (minor or major) can lead to multiple disturbances in the ocean’s ecosystem.

We admit that hard to stop using plastics. Read when one of our team tried to go 1 day without using plastic and failed! … Although we can not stop plastic pollution, we can reduce it. Let’s move on.

3. Effects on native species

Native species are those species that exist naturally in a particular area. Invasive species, on the other hand, are those species that are not native to that particular location. Invasive species have the potential to grow at a rate that is believed to cause damage to the environment.

Plastic pollution in the ocean may also encourage the spread of non-native or invasive species.  According to scientific research, there are some coastal organisms that can survive in the ocean long enough to reach another shore. Plastic, as we all know, is non-biodegradable thus provides more vessels for invasive species to cross the ocean.

4. Effects on food quality and human health

Microplastics, often referred to as invisible plastics, are present in almost everything that we eat or drink. Therefore, we are ingesting plastic, literally!

Many researchers have detected the presence of microplastics in our food and drinking water. Ocean life having plastic within them are consumed by humans as seafood. Therefore, the plastic ingested by ocean life enters our body and cause various health problems.

Plastic also contains certain chemicals that were used in its manufacturing. These chemicals are known to be carcinogenic. Upon entering the human body, they can cause reproductive, neurological, developmental, and immunological disorders. Other toxic chemicals may also accumulate on plastic’s surface upon exposure to ocean water.  These contaminants are then carried on towards humans via the food chain and cause several health issues including birth defects.

5. Effects on tourism and economy

Tourism holds great value among people and the country’s economy. Coastal areas are one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world.  People visit coastal areas all the time to relax on the beach and enjoy the scenic beauty of the sea.

We mentioned earlier that tourism serves as a source of plastic pollution in the ocean but it’s the other way around too. Plastic waste is often washed away on the beaches and therefore destroys their aesthetic value. This leads to reduced tourist activities. Reduced tourist activities further cause a decrease in tourism-related incomes. Moreover, the cleaning and maintenance of polluted sites require additional costs. In this way, the country’s economy is also affected.

Here’s what will happen if we don’t stop plastic pollution.

Conclusion on Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Plastic has surely become an integral part of our lives. It seems impossible to completely ban its production as our daily lives revolve around plastic. But the way it’s polluting and damaging our ocean environment is unacceptable. Ocean wildlife (fish, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions, seabirds, etc) mistake plastic for food and ingest it. Which then causes suffocation, starvation, or death. These creatures, when tangled up in plastic, also face reduced locomotion which also sometimes becomes the reason for their death. Plastic is termed as a non-biodegradable substance. It breaks down into smaller pieces and accumulates in the food chain as microplastics. These microplastics thus enter the human body and cause various health issues.

If we don’t take any measures, global plastic production is estimated to grow dramatically. The most efficient way to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean is to minimize its usage in the first place. There is an urgent need for solutions such as more awareness, reduced plastic production and consumption, and improvement in the plastic waste management system.

You can also read about plastic pollution facts in 2020 and some causes.

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2 thoughts on “Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean”

  1. Well written!?Comprehensively described the topic. We all should take initiatives even on individual levels to eradicate plastic.

    1. Thank you, Syeda for reading our article. We are happy you found it useful. Wish you all the best in your environmental journey!

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