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The Real-Life Impact of Plastic (Part 2)

To read part 1, click here.

Remote islands situated near high concentrations of ocean trash serve as vital sinks, or mitigators of toxins and pollutants, for that waste, according to a 2017 research paper by Jennifer L. Lavers and Alexander L. Bond published in the National Academy of Sciences. The density of debris found on the uninhabited Henderson Island represented the highest amount found anywhere on Earth—with 68% within the Pacific island’s sediment.

Sea water exacerbates plastic toxicity and density. The toxicity and density of microscopic plastics that end up in ocean water can be exacerbated by organic materials. When these materials, like salt, attach to contaminants, they form an “ecocorona” and can increase the risk for animals in these ecosystems.

At least 10% of species will eat ocean plastic. The reason sea creatures eat so much plastic may be because of the similar smells of algae and plastic. More than 180 marine species have been put in harm’s way by consuming plastic trash in water bodies.

Ocean plastic pollution hurts more than 800 species. The leading negative effects of plastic pollution on marine and coastal life is through consumption, getting tangled in debris, and alteration of habitat. Mitigating these issues is a priority among the international community of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, scientists, charities, and many in the private sector.

Eating plastic damages animals’ organs. Because ingestion is the leading way ocean life interacts with plastic, ingestion is also the leading cause of damage to organisms. In addition to damaged organs, the effects of plastic consumption range from reduced predatory behaviours to lower neurofunctional activity to death.

Corals entangled in plastic are 20 times more likely to get sick. Fragile coral reefs ecosystems suffer from toxin release, light deprivation, and significant oxygen depletion. These deficits offer fertile ground for pathogens: The probability of disease in coral reefs went up 20 times if a piece of coral was covered by plastic, according to a study published in 2018 in Science.

Half of seabird species have been hurt by eating plastic. The number of marine species hurt by consumption of or entanglement in plastic trash doubled between 1997 and 2015, according to research published in 2015. That study reported 203 of 406 species of seabirds have been documented as suffering from eating plastic.

Two-thirds of marine mammal species have been hurt by eating plastic. From 1997 to 2015, the percentage of marine mammals adversely affected by eating plastic grew from 43% to 66% An estimated 100,000 marine mammals die each year from plastic pollution.

Plastic waste fills the stomachs of whales. Whales have endured hundreds of years of the effects of overfishing depleting their food access and whaling significantly reducing their population. Today, plastic pollution poses a new threat at the same time some whale species are showing signs of a comeback. As the biggest eaters in the ocean, plastic regularly ends up in whales’ stomachs—largely because it’s already present in the stomachs of their prey.

Eating plastic is linked to brain damage in fish. Plastic nanoparticles pose a serious threat to fish despite being too small to pose choking hazards of larger pieces of plastic. The toxins in these nanoparticles interact with brain tissue and is found to cause behavioural issues in fish, including how quickly they ate and how far they travelled to hunt.

Discarded fishing gear smothers, entangles, and causes disease. Abandoned or lost fishing gear in oceans is referred to as “ghost gear,” which comprises more than 46% of all plastic found in floating garbage patches around the world. The fishing equipment can strangle, trap, asphyxiate, and poison marine life.

Plastic and fibre ocean debris end up in our seafood. It should come as no surprise that if plastic winds up in the bellies of fish, mammals and birds, so too will it end up in our own bellies through the seafood we consume. Averages put seafood-lovers’ plastic consumption at more than 2,000 plastic pieces annually.

Plastic particles end up in our tap water, beer, and salt. Of course, plastic doesn’t just get ingested by humans via seafood. Microplastics get trapped in the sediment of virtually every water body, meaning it’s easy for trace amounts to show up in the liquids we drink and salt we sprinkle on our food.

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