Plastic in our oceans: How serious is the problem, really?
Day in and day out we hear about the tremendous amount of waste that is floating about in the ocean, and the impact it is having. Between the Great Pacific garbage patch (which is estimated to range between 700,000-15,000,000 square kilometres), the recent news report of a whale found with nearly 40 kilograms of plastic in its stomach, or the sheer fact that an estimated 8,000,000 tons of plastic is entering the ocean each year, the ocean is facing an absolute crisis when it comes to plastic pollution.
However, even with all of these astonishing facts, many of us can’t picture the utter chaos this is causing on marine life and the sustainability of the ocean. Many of us are left to wonder how serious is the problem, really?
The Short Answer –
The problem that we are facing with the amount of plastic in the ocean is an absolute catastrophe.
Plastic, whether it is single-use packaging, microfibres from clothing, or a small drinking straw, is greatly impacting the beautiful creatures that flourish in the sea, as many ingest plastic due to mistaking it as food. As the rate of plastic pollution intensifies, we are looking at an estimated 700 species that are vulnerable to becoming extinct.
The Long Answer –
The difficult situation we are facing with plastic debris infiltrating our oceans is a gravely serious issue.
It is estimated that “by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish”, according to earthday.org.
With that amount of plastic in the ocean, fish will not be able to thrive as they once have, and their populations will decrease due to the lack of natural ecosystems remaining. Not only are the ocean creatures eating plastic, but it is also impacting their homes and habitats.
Coral, which many sea creatures make their home, can become damaged when coming in contact with plastic, meaning that it can diminish in quality, and force its residents out of their natural area.
On top of this, marine life can become entangled in plastic debris such as fishing nets left by careless fisherman, entrapped in the handles of single-use plastic bags, and have smaller plastics, such as straws, stuck in their noses, mouths, and gills.
onegreenplanet.org states that, “between entanglement, ingestion and ecosystem damage, the threat of plastic pollution impacts marine species both large and small.”
Besides general litter left by negligent waste management, a surprising amount of plastic enters the ocean deriving from our clothing.
Obviously, we aren’t tossing out clothing directly into the ocean, but by simply washing any clothes we own that are made of synthetic fibres such as polyester, elastane, nylon (and many others), we are unknowingly causing more plastic pollution to enter our ecosystem.
Through marineconservation.org.au we learn that “a 2015 study found that a staggering 250,000 fibres [of microplastics] were released in a single wash of just one 500g fleece jacket”.
In addition, microplastics are also found in many household products such as toothpaste, face washing soaps, and an array of cleaning products. Even without our knowledge, hundreds of thousands of plastics are slipping down our drain and into water ways unnoticed, but even with how tiny they are, they add up in the long run towards destroying the Earths oceans.
What is being done to help on a larger scale?
Luckily, many law makers and country leaders are noticing the environmental impact that plastic pollution is making on the world, with many countries and regions banning single-use items and microplastics.
Several countries in Africa and Europe have already taken drastic measures to reduce or ban plastic bags, and countries like our own here in Australia are starting to follow suit, with many states putting bans on plastic bags. In addition to banning single-use plastics, many groups are campaigning to help clean up the ocean, starting with the Great Pacific garbage patch.
What can we do to help?
Even though it may not seem like much of an impact, there are numerous things that one person can do to help with the plastic pollution issue.
With tackling your dependence on single-use plastics, such as bags, straws, take-away containers, and the likes, you can reduce the likelihood of these items ending up where they don’t belong. Ensuring that you purchase clothing made of natural components, such as organic cotton, you’d be reducing the drastic amount of microplastics entering the waterways. Lastly, we can help by disposing of any and all rubbish properly, and with care.
By simply being conscious of what we use, what we purchase, and how we dispose, one person can make much more of a difference than you’d think. Even one person reducing one item from the ocean may be a help towards a sea critter.