More and more activists have been raving about the importance of sustainability in all aspects of our day-to-day lives. Amidst the chaos of fast fashion, plastic-filled households, and lack of education on the environmental impacts of our seemingly mundane actions, lays the truth about what plastic really does to the ocean.
The statistics are rather disheartening, but there is always time to reverse the heartbreaking damage we’ve caused with our marine plastic waste.
Why plastic ocean pollution is a tremendous issue?
First things first, let’s start with what plastic really is. Plastic is deemed as a synthetic organic polymer that’s predominantly made from petroleum. It is produced to meet an array of everyday demands including product packaging, all types of construction, household items and vehicles, tech, fashion, and agriculture. Consider it as a cheap, super lightweight, and durable material that can be found pretty much everywhere around us. In fact, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and half of it is predominantly crafted for single-use items such as disposable cups, shopping bags, straws, and more.
Here is where it gets serious. On average, 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. This results in floating plastic debris being the most abundant item of marine litter. In reality, man-hade plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine debris. This includes everything from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. In 2021, plastic has absolutely “flooded” shorelines across all the continents.
How big of an issue is ocean pollution?
So, what are the main sources of marine plastic? We hear you asking. From urban and storm runoff, daily sewer overflows, and tourist attractions like the myriads of frequent beach visitors along with inadequate waste disposal, an array of industrial activities, and, most importantly, illegal dumping. However, the fishing industry, nautical activities, and aquaculture are the leading causes of ocean-based plastic all year long. According to The Ocean Clean Up, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. At the time of sampling, there were more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the patch that weigh an estimated 80,000 tonnes.
An estimated 50-80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface and the oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet. The most prominent impact of marine plastic pollution is the ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement of hundreds of marine species including but not limited to seabirds, whales, fishes, and turtles. As soon as an animal mistakes plastic waste for its prey, it will consume it, resulting in the animal’s inevitable starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.
The dangers of overfishing
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Along with plastic ocean waste, according to Fish Forward, illegal and unregulated fishing constitutes an estimated 11-26 million tonnes (12-28%) of fishing worldwide. The number of overfished stocks globally has tripled in half a century and today fully one-third of the world's assessed fisheries are currently pushed beyond their biological limits, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Consequently, this tremendous marine threat causes the needless loss of billions of fish, along with hundreds of thousands of sea turtles and cetaceans.
What’s even more mind-blowing? 10% of fish caught in oceans get dumped back in. Yes, there are several billions of fish getting killed each year without reaching the dinner table. Bycatch, marine species such as sharks, dolphins, turtles, and whales that get entangled in the huge nets adrift in our oceans is also a tremendous impact of overfishing.
Whales fertilize the microscopic phytoplankton, upon which all sea life depends. In their turn, phytoplankton is in charge of mitigating climate change by capturing carbon while also producing more than half the world’s oxygen. How? The ocean absorbs 4x the amount of CO2 n the Amazon Rainforest, which translates to about 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. According to EarthSky, scientists believe that phytoplankton contributes up to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. So, it’s safe to say that protecting whales is absolutely important when you actively want to protect our planet.
Even though thousands of people have been actively trying to educate and help the ever-growing environmental issue, there is still a long way ahead of us. Educating ourselves on what plastic really does to the ocean along with the serious global impacts of overfishing is the first step towards a better future for our health, for the environment, and all its inhabitants. If we continue the same-old habits, the effects will soon be irreversible, our planet will keep getting warmer and warmer until the last of the corals along with the entire ecosystem and marine life dies. Mindful actions are no longer an option, but an unfortunate necessity.