How does ocean pollution affect marine life?

Around the world, hundreds of marine species have been adversely affected by marine debris, which can harm or kill an animal when ingested or entangled, and can endanger the habitats on which they depend. Marine debris can also interfere with the safety of navigation and pose a threat to human health. Plastic waste can encourage the growth of pathogens in the ocean. According to a recent study, scientists concluded that corals that come into contact with plastic have an 89 percent chance of contracting diseases, compared to a 4 percent chance of corals that don't.

Plastic pollution is a widespread problem affecting the marine environment. It threatens the health of the oceans, the health of marine species, the safety and quality of food, human health, coastal tourism and contributes to climate change. Plastic pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals die every year after ingesting plastic or becoming trapped in it.

Endangered wildlife, such as the Hawaiian monk seal and the Pacific loggerhead turtle, are among the nearly 700 species that feed on plastic garbage and are trapped in it. It is estimated that up to 13 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, the equivalent of what a load of garbage or garbage truck is worth per minute. The Environmental Protection Agency is asking the government to regulate plastics as pollutants under the Clean Water Act and will continue to push for plastic pollution to be treated as the hazardous waste that it is. Once plastic enters the sea, it has no limits: waves and storms can carry plastics even to the farthest reaches of the ocean, where they accumulate in large offshore gyres or are embedded in coasts and in delicate coastal ecosystems; they have even been found on uninhabited islands.

There are methodologies for identifying, measuring and addressing sources of marine plastic pollution and plastic leaks, including those from the IUCN. Studies estimate that there are now between 15 and 51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans, from the equator to the poles, from the Arctic ice sheets to the seabed. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that represent about 40 percent of the world's ocean surface. 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.

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. Up to 13 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, threatening marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them. The main sources of plastic waste found in the ocean come from land and come from urban and storm runoff, sewer overflows, garbage, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, tire abrasion, construction and illegal dumping.

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