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Marine Plastic Pollution[change | edit source]

Plastic pollution is man made trash that floats in the ocean. Almost 80 percent of marine garbage is made out of plastics[1]. Recently, many consumer products are made from plastic[2]. Since Plastic is useful, strong, cheap and floats in water, large amounts end up floating in the ocean after being thrown away[3]. Yet long exposure to the sun and salt water makes plastic brittel and easy to break[2]. Once in the ocean, the plastics begin to break down into to smaller pieces making them more difficult to remove and more harmful to the environment. Ocean currents easily move the trash around the seas causing widespread pollution [1].

History[change | edit source]

Plastics have been gathering in the ocean since the early 60s with the first explosion of one-use plastic goods and have been spread through the ecosystem.[4] Plastic pieces make up the majority of trash that pollutes the oceans since the 80s [1]. The rate at which plastic trash is growing in the world’s oceans is passing the rate at which humans try to remove it [2].

Distribution[change | edit source]

North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone

The movements of trash are caused by climate and ocean variations, such as currents, and all experience similar movements around the ocean[5]. Seabird community, organization, and amount are affected by similar factors to plastic movements such as wind patterns and currents[6]. Plastic trash mainly gathers in the center of the ocean. An area nicknamed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has a large amount of plastic floating in the top zone of the water[5]. The plastic particles and pieces are trapped in this gyre by currents and winds. Plastic is in higher than normal amount in this region. The garbage patch is an area where many currents, that remove debris from the shoreline, come together and trap the trash into a central plastic soup. Many far-spread ocean species, often seabirds such as the albatross, feed here and end up eating plastic rather than natural food they need for survival[7].

Threats to Wildlife[change | edit source]

Plastic pieces are a large threat to marine animals. The animals can be tangled in plastic, accidentally eat plastic, and can be poisoned by plastic[4]. Studies have been examining the impacts of plastic trash on marine species because of the high death rates caused by plastics. Microplastics are releasing chemical pollutants into the ocean as well[8]. When the plastic begins to break down the chemicals contaminate the water, which is harmful to the ecosystem and the creatures living in it [6].

Turtle entangled in marine debris

Entanglement[change | edit source]

Becoming tangled in plastic debris is another issue faced by sea creatures. Discarded fishing gear, such as netting and fishing lines, are the main type of debris that animals become tangled in, but they also can be harmed by plastic bags, six pack rings, and other packaging products[4]. When an animal becomes tangled in such plastic based waste, they may drown, have a hard time getting food, be unable to avoid other predators, or become wounded from the debris by making cuts or abrasions[9]. Often animals die because of reduced fitness and increased difficulties traveling[9]. This happens when albatross gather food near fishing boats and get trapped in old lines. When species are tangled in fishing gear off of boats they are called "by-catch" because they are the unintended catch of the fishermen[7]. Another species harmed by entanglement are seals. Seals are curious creatures that are attracted to floating items such as nets and other loop like items they can dive and roll in, which often results in entanglement. The plastic loops can easily slide on but do not come off because of their fur[4].

Ingestion[change | edit source]

Many species experience cases of dehydration, decreased body condition, and death because of high levels of plastic in their systems. For example, a study discovered plastic replaced food items in albatross leading to starvation of albatross chicks. When plastic is found in the first section of birds’ stomachs, they are unable to gain as much water and food[7]. The chicks then receive less food from the parent birds, leading to starvation and dehydration [9]. When gulls try to digest plastic, they often die because the plastics become stuck. There is constriction between their gizzards and following digestive track that prevents plastic pieces from passing through their system [10]. The separation of the two organs prevent indigestible plastic pieces from being regurgitated (thrown up) and can result in death by blockage[10]. Even if the animals do not die from eating the plastic, their fitness and health is reduced because of the harmful substance.

Albatross chick plastic

Toxins[change | edit source]

It has recently been discovered that many hydrophobic pollutants in the oceans become trapped on the surfaces of plastics[2]. When animals ingest these pieces, the chemicals detach from the plastic and absorb into the bodies of the consumer[8]. This allows for harmful chemical toxins to become included into the food chain. Many pesticides that are harmful to ocean environments have been found in marine animals blood samples, the likely cause due to plastic with in their systems[8]. Scientists are able to track the movements of persistent organic pollutants in the ecosystem and determine where the contaminants come from[8].

Future of Plastics in the Ocean[change | edit source]

As plastics become more common in marine environments, the rising effects will be a bigger issue for more species. More tracking and study of plastic impacts will help provide an accurate view of long-term effects of plastic presence in the ocean[1]. The pieces of plastic will continue to degrade and fall apart, which will make removing it more difficult[5]. The increase of plastic trash in the future will make it more necessary for people focus on the damage being caused in the ecosystem and how to fix it. Research supporting the changing of plastic effects must be detailed. The study of plastic's effects on marine species will help create management strategies to lessen plastics’ negative environmental impact. Conservation efforts to change the oceans’ growing plastic pollution problem will be benificial to marine health.

References[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Howell, Evan A.; Bograd, Steven J.; Morishige, Carey; Seki, Michael P.; Polovina, Jeffrey J. (1 January 2012). "On North Pacific circulation and associated marine debris concentration". Marine Pollution Bulletin 65 (1-3): 16–22. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.04.034.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Andrady, Anthony L. (1 August 2011). "Microplastics in the marine environment". Marine Pollution Bulletin 62 (8): 1596–1605. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.05.030.
  3. Derraik, José G.B (1 September 2002). "The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review". Marine Pollution Bulletin 44 (9): 842–852. doi:10.1016/S0025-326X(02)00220-5.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Derraik, José G.B (1 September 2002). "The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review". Marine Pollution Bulletin 44 (9): 842–852. doi:10.1016/S0025-326X(02)00220-5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Titmus, Andrew J.; David Hyrenbach, K. (1 November 2011). "Habitat associations of floating debris and marine birds in the North East Pacific Ocean at coarse and meso spatial scales". Marine Pollution Bulletin 62 (11): 2496–2506. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.08.007.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Young, Lindsay C.; Vanderlip, Cynthia; Duffy, David C.; Afanasyev, Vsevolod; Shaffer, Scott A.; Ropert-Coudert, Yan (28 October 2009). "Bringing Home the Trash: Do Colony-Based Differences in Foraging Distribution Lead to Increased Plastic Ingestion in Laysan Albatrosses?". PLoS ONE 4 (10): e7623. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007623.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Gray, Holly; Lattin, Gwendolyn L.; Moore, Charles J. (1 October 2012). "Incidence, mass and variety of plastics ingested by Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis) and Black-footed Albatrosses (P. nigripes) recovered as by-catch in the North Pacific Ocean". Marine Pollution Bulletin 64 (10): 2190–2192. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.07.053.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Harwani, Suhash; Henry, Robert W; Rhee, Alexandra; Kappes, Michelle A.; Croll, Donald A.; Petreas, Myrto; Park, June-Soo (1 November 2011). "Legacy and contemporary persistent organic pollutants in North Pacific albatross". Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 30 (11): 2562–2569. doi:10.1002/etc.664.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Sileo, L; Sievert, PR; Samuel, MD (1990 Jul). "Causes of mortality of albatross chicks at Midway Atoll.". Journal of wildlife diseases 26 (3): 329-38. PMID 2167393.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Lindborg, Valerie A.; Ledbetter, Julia F.; Walat, Jean M.; Moffett, Cinamon (1 November 2012). Marine Pollution Bulletin 64 (11): 2351–2356. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul..






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