What are the long term effects of plastic pollution in the oceans?

Transportation of invasive and polluting species from polluted rivers to remote areas of the ocean. 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. They also suffer lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim, and internal injuries.

Floating plastics also help transport invasive marine species, threatening marine biodiversity and the food web. 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 or becoming trapped in plastic. 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.

We live on a blue planet; the world's oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth. They contain 97% of the Earth's water and currently absorb about a third of the CO2 produced by our activities, so they help in part by acting as shock absorbers for some of the impacts of climate change. The average pH balance is decreasing and, as a result, the growth of calcifying organisms such as corals and shellfish is reduced. However, acidification alone is not the only pollution problem facing the world's seas, and others are intensifying at an even faster rate.

The impacts and implications are enormous and growing. 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. 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. 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.

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. There are efforts to protect the oceans from plastic pollutants along with human health, but they are mostly grassroots organizations. Rolf Halden, associate professor at the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University, has studied the adverse effects of plastic on humans and, so far, has concluded that it is almost impossible to determine an exact summary of the effects of plastic on human health. For more information on Halden's studies on plastic at Arizona State University, see Impacts of plastics on human health and ecosystems.

In fact, plastic toxins not only affect the ocean, but by acting like sponges, they absorb other toxins from external sources before entering the ocean. The global legal and illegal trade in plastic waste can also damage ecosystems, where waste management systems are not sufficient to contain plastic waste. The World Oceans Commission, for example, has called for the adoption of an ambitious and long-term goal of zero plastic waste in the marine environment. An article about how plastic breaks down in the ocean and is ingested by seabirds states that humans will also be affected by toxins.

Scientists from the SES (Sea Education Society) studied plastics in the Atlantic and calculated that there are 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer. This web article talks specifically about the Atlantic garbage patch and plastic pollution in the ocean. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that represent about 40 percent of the world's ocean surface. .

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