Impacts on marine ecosystems The most visible impacts of plastic waste are the ingestion, asphyxiation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife, such as seabirds, whales, fish and turtles, mistake plastic waste for prey; most die of hunger when their stomachs are filled with plastic. While many plastics don't biodegrade, they do photodegrade. Exposure to UV rays ends up breaking all those plastic bottles and bags into tiny pieces that, like microbeads and fibers, can filter the toxic chemical additives (PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants) that manufacturers place there.
Two weeks ago, the ISU organized a working group, which included MacArthur, to analyze plastic waste in the oceans. And even in studies that did report plastic ingestion, researchers didn't find plastic in all individual fish. Not surprisingly, places with an abundance of plastic in surface waters, such as East Asia, increase the likelihood that fish will ingest plastic. Plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade and, unlike other types of waste, plastics break down very slowly (NOAA).
At the end of the day, investing in eliminating plastic pollution from the oceans goes far beyond simply knowing that the problem exists. Beaches full of single-use soda bottles and takeaway containers; rivers full of plastic bags and cups; microplastics found in the deepest parts of the ocean. We speculate that this could be happening both because methods for detecting microplastics are improving and because plastic pollution in the oceans continues to increase. Ocean gyres, those swirls of plastic that swirl in the open ocean, are also a black hole when it comes to research.
We believe that education on the topic of plastic pollution in the oceans and, more importantly, its relationship with fishermen and the community that lives outdoors, is vital for change. Single-use plastic is the type of plastic items that everyone uses just once before the item becomes unusable and then discarded. Up to 13 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, threatening marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them. Pollution can even reach the ocean from miles away when it falls into storm drains that all lead to the ocean.
Every year, the amount of plastic that swirls in ocean gyres and surfs the tide to coastal beaches seems to increase. Therefore, just because someone is far from the ocean doesn't mean that they aren't affecting the ocean and waterways with pollutants.