Plastics are increasingly polluting the seas and oceans and
threatening marine ecosystems. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS
By Janaya Wilkins
LONDON, Dec 20 2019 (IPS)
Plastic pollution is currently the largest global threat to
marine life. Each year, 10-20 million tonnes of
plastic ends up in our oceans, killing approximately
100,000 marine mammals and over a million seabirds.
Whilst the media has certainly helped raise awareness and
inspire a change of attitude towards plastics, the amount of
plastic in our oceans is still rising. As a result, vast numbers of
sea species are now critically endangered, and the need for urgent
action has never been stronger.
So, where does all this plastic come from? Well, around 80% of
all marine debris, derives from from land-based sources. This
includes littering, illegal waste dumping, and the improper
disposal of products such as wet wipes, sanitary products and
And although more parts of the world are now turning their
attention towards the issue, the amount of rubbish entering the
ocean is rising, with one
truckload of plastic entering the ocean every single
The remaining 20% of marine debris is the result of ocean based
activity. This is mainly from the fishing industry, but also caused
by boats that collect trash and dump it out at sea.
Currently, there are more than
5 trillion plastic particles floating around the world’s
oceans and this number is continuing to rise fast. According to the
Foundation and the World Economic Forum, there could be more
plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if we don’t act now.
But what exactly would this mean for marine life?
The WWF states as many as 700 marine species are currently
threatened by plastics. But whilst large numbers die from choking
on shards of plastic, the chemicals in plastic such as petroleum
and bisphenol, are proving just as deadly.
Credit: UN Environment
Recent studies have revealed that 50% of the
world’s coral reefs have already been destroyed, and another
40% could be lost over the next 30 years.
When plastic is ingested, these toxic chemicals are released and
absorbed into the body tissue. Overtime, this can impact fertility
and weaken the immune system. As a result, those feeding on plastic
are breeding less and becoming increasingly vulnerable to diseases
and infections, resulting in population decline.
This is particularly concerning for top marine predators such as
dolphins, polar bears and whales, with
studies revealing higher contamination levels among predators
at the top of the food chain. Yet this isn’t caused by ingesting
Instead, pollutants are accumulating in their bodies through a
process called trophic transfer. This is where toxins consumed by
smaller creatures such as plankton and krill are stored into their
body tissue. Over time, these toxins are passed up through the food
chain. In most cases, these toxins come from microplastics.
The Rise of Microplastics
Microplastic are small plastic particles (less than 5mm) and
it’s estimated there are between 15-51 trillion of
these individual individual plastic pieces floating in our
In a recent
UK study, scientists examined 50 stranded sea creatures
including porpoises, dolphins, grey seals and a pygmy sperm whale,
and microplastics were found in the gut of every single animal.
And it’s not just ocean creatures that are at risk. Microplastics
have also been discovered in seafood, with research suggesting that
each seafood consumer in Europe ingests an average of 11,000 plastic
particles each year.
How Can We Beat It?
Plastic pollution is a man-made disaster, and it won’t go away
by itself. To end plastic pollution,
we must start by reducing our plastic consumption, particularly
Much of the power lies with the large corporations and
manufacturers, and they desperately need to realise their
responsibility, and find other alternatives to plastic.
But you can still make an impact on a smaller scale, by reducing
your own plastic consumption and encouraging others around you.
It won’t be easy, since almost everything we buy is packaged
in plastic. In fact, UK supermarkets alone produce 800,000
tonnes of plastic every year. But start by making small changes
Look for zero waste products like shampoo bars and deoderant
sticks, or products made from plastic alternatives such as bamboo
toothbrushes and glass milk bottles. Participate in a beach
clean every time you visit a body of water.
There are also plenty of great charities working to help combat
plastic pollution. Plastic
Aware and Changing Tides
Foundation are just a few examples but there are many more out
there to choose from!
*SLO active are an exciting new social enterprise dedicated to
cleaning up and protecting our ocean. They are cause-led, focusing
on oceanwear and activism. For every piece bought, SLO active will
donate to one of their ocean charity partners of your choice. They
call it ‘Earth to Ocean’. Learn more at https://sloactive.com/.
Janaya Wilkins is the founder and CEO of SLO*
active, the lifestyle brand dedicated to protecting the ocean by
selling sustainable luxury ocean wear.
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Plastic: The Largest Predator in Our Oceans