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Killing Marine Life | Imagine you’re in the kitchen, and as you reach closer to the countertop, you see something that looks fairly similar to your favorite treat. You grab it and gulp on it, and the next thing you know, you’re dead. That’s what it’s like for most underwater species.
It only takes a single instance of ingesting plastic or other deadly materials for most marine mammals to struggle and eventually die. Thousands of seals, sea turtles, and seabirds become victims to the gruesome act of trashing the oceans, but that’s not it. Sadly, the effects have gone far and wide to destroy even some of the most endangered wildlife like Pacific loggerhead sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals.
Can you tell what causes thousands of animals to die grisly deaths in the water every year? Without a glance or a second thought, it’s plastic, but not just ingesting it. Most animals die just by getting entangled in it.
In the North Pacific alone, up to 24000 tons of plastic is ingested every year by fish. As a result, it causes injury in the intestines and eventually death, but the journey doesn’t end here. The same plastic that may have resulted in the death of one fish is systematically transferred to another fish (bigger in size) as a part of the food chain.
The result? They die too.
There have been way too many instances of fish in commercial markets with plastic microfibers found in their system. However, fish are not the only ones affected in the process.
Sea Birds are also among some of the most affected underwater species to die from ingesting plastic every year. When their stomach constricts as a result of the ingested plastic, there’s hardly any storage volume. This means that even if plastic is not the direct cause of death, these species are dying simply because of starvation.
According to an estimate, about 60% of all seabird species have consumed plastic in some form or the other. Unfortunately, the numbers are only expected to increase by 2050. Dead seabirds with chunks of plastic found in their systems show how much the garbage dumping practices have increased over the years.
Most sea turtles become victims of plastic because they mistake it for food. They often choke, sustain certain injuries and die. If they don’t die immediately, they often die later, thinking that they’re full because they ate food (plastic).
Plastic pollution has affected not only the existing species of sea turtles but also those that were supposed to come next. This means that the pollution is so dangerous that it has affected the reproduction process across several species of sea turtles. Unfortunately, at this point, approximately half of the sea turtle population has already ingested plastic in one form or another.
As usual, most marine mammals die in the same fashion, either by getting entangled or ingesting something they weren’t supposed to. Plastic debris found in habitats of endangered animals is a whole other story, but at this point, it’s safe to conclude that the rising mortality rates in the oceans across the world are all due to plastic.
The plastic problem is not new. It has existed for a long period of time and, unfortunately, will continue to do so. From the consumer goods that fill aisles in our stores to the single-use packaging we throw away, plastic is everywhere.
Just the first decade of the century witnessed plastic production higher than ever, and from that point on, the numbers have only increased. With billions of pounds adding up almost every year, we’re not far from the day when not even a single ocean in the world will be free from plastic.
What started as a problem is now turning into a full-fledged crisis, and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. At a time when the world should have actively been involved in eliminating plastic from all spheres of life, there are more and more plans emerging to increase its production.
Let’s take the fossil fuel industry as an example. As it plans to increase the production of plastic by a drastic figure of 40% in the next decade, we can only hope to survive its horrifying consequences.
Oil giants, on the other hand, also don’t seem to be slowing down. In their attempt to convert fracked gas to plastic, they’re building petrochemical plants throughout the country, and it only means one thing: Alarming levels of plastic in the ocean and pollution in the air.
The most dangerous thing about plastic is its durability. In fact, plastic produced today has the ability to last for centuries, if not the upcoming decades. Similarly, plastic created centuries ago has also managed to last up till now. If we continue to follow the same patterns, the problem may soon turn into an epidemic.
Here’s the good news. While the plastic problem has become more serious than ever, matters are not all gloom and doom. It’s still possible to reduce, if not eliminate, the problem of plastic pollution and hopefully protect our marine life in the process.
Remember, taking a few personal actions can go a long way to reduce the amount of waste finding its way into the oceans. Keeping an eye out for trash, bringing your own cutlery, and investing in reusable items may not seem like a big deal today. However, a decade from now, you may be responsible for drastically bringing down the numbers of discarded plastic packaging after a single-use.
Here’s the bottom line. Plastic was, is, and unfortunately will continue to be one of the biggest dilemmas for mankind, but it’s up to us to decide what we can do with it. We can either choose to follow the same pattern and end up killing the world faster than it was meant to be killed or slow it down and find a way out in the process.