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 from 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 in the ocean has a devastating impact on marine life and ecosystems. The most obvious is the damage that plastic objects cause to animals when they come into contact with them or ingest them, including asphyxiation, entanglement, lacerations, infections and internal injuries. 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. Unfortunately, plastic is so durable that the EPA reports that “all the pieces of plastic that have ever been manufactured still exist. 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. Low oxygen levels in the ocean cause the death of marine animals such as penguins, dolphins, whales and sharks.
There are many NGOs and non-profit organizations that rely on donations to develop their projects and research to reduce and eliminate plastic from the ocean. If you live next to a sea or river, you can volunteer to pick up trash in your local community, thus eliminating plastics from waterways and preventing them from reaching the ocean in the first place. 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 methodologies for identifying, measuring and addressing sources of marine plastic pollution and plastic leaks, including those from the IUCN.
The global legal and illegal trade in plastic waste can also damage ecosystems, where waste management systems are not sufficient to contain plastic waste. 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. Plastic is found on the coasts of every continent, and more plastic waste is found near popular tourist destinations and densely populated areas. The animals most vulnerable to damage caused by plastic waste in the ocean are dolphins, fish, sharks, turtles, seabirds and crabs.