The amount of plastic pollution in our oceans has grown rapidly over the last 40 years. At this rate, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the oceans by the year 2050.
Plastic pollution has very direct and deadly effects on sea life, killing thousands of marine animals each year. Around 700 species eat and get caught in plastic waste. Fish in the North Pacific Ocean ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic annually, which leads to intestinal damage and death. Scientists estimate that half of the world’s sea turtles have eaten plastic. Sixty percent of all seabird species have ingested plastic and that number is predicted to climb to 90% in the next 20 years. Marine mammals can also die from getting caught in plastic, packing bands being the most common entangling material.
Plastic accumulation on the ocean surface is becoming a global crisis. Plastic is used everywhere and is very durable. It’s made to last for hundreds of years, which is why 40% of the Earth’s oceans are now covered in plastic. Not one square mile of the ocean’s surface is free from plastic pollution. One of the five gyres on Earth that has the largest amount of plastic is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Ocean. Scientists estimate that there are currently 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans.
Despite the plastic pollution in the world, fossil fuel industries intend to increase plastic production by 45% over the next few years. These industries are building plants across the U.S. to turn gas into plastic. This means more harmful air pollution and plastic in the oceans.
The Center for Biological Diversity is working to put a stop to this ocean crisis. It has requested that the Environmental Protection Agency regulate plastics as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act, in an attempt to stop pollution at the source before it reaches the ocean. It has also sued companies that produce plastics to better control their runoff.
Plastic eaten by fish travels up the food chain to bigger fish, and eventually reaches humans. This plastic pollution crisis is affecting humans, animals, and our ecosystems. It will take the efforts of multiple environmental groups to reduce ocean plastic pollution.
Dane County has taken steps to reduce the ammount of plastic entering Wisconsin's waterways. One project, called Ripple Effects, puts informative murals on the street near storm drains. Plastic washed down storm drains flow into local lakes and rivers, and eventually into the sea. So if you see plastic on the side of the road, pick it up! Plastic in our oceans starts as plastic in our streets.
[Source: Center for Biological Diversity; Dane County Land and Water Resources Department; Madison.com]