What is plastic and why is it a problem in the ocean?

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. Fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals can become entangled or ingest plastic waste, which can cause asphyxiation, starvation and drowning. 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.

In addition, plastics absorb pollutants that float in the ocean and contain harmful chemicals in themselves. Preliminary research suggests that when animals consume these toxin-soaked particles, they can damage their organs, make them more susceptible to diseases and alter their reproduction. 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.

The problem of plastic in nature, particularly in our oceans, is a global crisis. Every minute, approximately one garbage truck full of plastic enters the oceans, dirtying beaches, damaging wildlife and contaminating our food supply. The European Space Agency even uses its satellites to track plastic waste from space, hoping to inform new policies that limit plastic pollution. Plastic is found on the coasts of every continent, and more plastic waste is found near popular tourist destinations and densely populated areas.

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. 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. One of the concerns is that plastics from the ocean eventually degrade into nanoplastics, which are so small that they could enter human cells when consumed. Abandoned fishing nets and plastic longlines, known as ghost gear, are also an important source, since they represent around 10% of plastic waste in the sea.

Once consumed by animals, ingested plastic can puncture internal organs or cause fatal intestinal obstructions; it also causes starvation, because a stomach full of plastic gives the animal the illusion of being full. Estimates suggest that there could be more than 5 trillion individual pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental problems, as the rapid increase in the production of disposable plastic products exceeds the world's capacity to address them. There are methodologies for identifying, measuring and addressing sources of marine plastic pollution and plastic leaks, including those from the IUCN.

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