Not everyone knows that plastic pollution is a problem and understands that it has an impact on the environment. Still, fewer realise just how far-reaching its effects can be, especially when it comes to wildlife.
"Fish aren't the only marine life to suffer from plastic entering their environment."
Causing DevastationThe nature of the way plastics breakdown, and the flaws in the recycling and waste disposal systems presently in place, means that large swathes of plastic find their way into the ocean. This is causing a massive problem for both the animal and human populations across the globe. Plastics cause havoc with the wildlife they come in contact with, and its increasing presence in the ocean makes this more and more likely. It is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050! As plastics break down, they become near-invisible micro-plastics that fish, and other animals, swallow thus sitting in their stomachs and entering their bloodstream never to leave. As such, any animal, including humans, that eats the fish is also contaminated with this pollution, and now these toxic plastics are in the food chain.
Plastic In The Food Chain Fish aren't the only marine life to suffer from plastic entering their environment. Sea turtles are notoriously troubled by plastics as they have been found tangled in them, and with plastic straws lodged in their nostrils. Biodegradable bamboo straws would significantly decrease the risk of things like this happening. However, the most common danger for them is ingesting plastic bags as many of the creatures mistake this blight for jellyfish and so see them as an easy meal. It is thought that more than Analysis of Debris Ingestion by Sea Turtles half of all turtles have ingested plastic of dead sea turtles found have had plastic in their stomachs. Whales also consume plastic on a large scale and have been found dead on beaches across the world, unable to absorb the nutrients they need due to the plastic.
Sea Mammals In March 2019, a Cuvier's beak whale died after being found vomiting blood. It was later discovered this was caused by waste in the animal's stomach that could not be digested. This led to a buildup of stomach acid which dissolved the walls of the whale's belly. Whales are particularly susceptible to eating this sort of wasting and many cases have been documented of plastic contributing to the death of these harmless giants, as far back as 1989, with the problem only increasing throughout the years.
Killing Creatures of All Kinds Sea-birds have a similar problem as they have a hard time differentiating between plastics and food that they scavenge from the water's surface. The chemicals in Study of how clastic ingestion affects seabirds plastics can then kill from within the stomach, while younger birds will have a problem eating them at all. It is thought around 40% of albatross chicks die each year due to being unable to swallow the plastic mistakenly fed to them by their parents. Given current trends, estimations suggest 99% of sea-birds will have ingested plastic waste by 2050.
Hermit crabs Hermit crabs are a crab that does not have a shell of its own, and so it searches for a bigger shell once it has outgrown its present form of protection. The pervading problem for them now, though, is that plastic waste seems like an excellent alternative to their discarded shells but can cause the animals to become stuck or poisoned within them. They then emit a chemical signal upon death that lets other hermit crabs know a shell has become available, but this only further exacerbates the problem as increasing numbers fall into these death traps.
Public Support In recent years the scale of the problem is finally being realised by large swathes of the general public. This can be attributed to hard-hitting nature documentaries such as A Plastic Ocean and Planet Earth II. Public support for new legislation has also grown thanks to troubling predictions that the amount of plastic in oceans is set to treble by the year 2025.
Policy Shift It's With consumers turning to more sustainable and environmentally friendly options in their purchasing decisions, manufacturers are having to sit up and take notice, offering more and more sustainable products. Lawmakers are also following suit with most developed nations having systems in place to reduce the usage of plastic bags in supermarkets and other shops. Britain has now gone a step further and banned plastic straws and stirrers in restaurants, cafés and shops. As more and more people are becoming more environmentally conscious, decision-makers are paying attention.
What Can We Do? It's not just marine life that is plagued by this problem as camels, cows, deer and elephants have all been found with causes of death associated with plastic pollution. When our waste is killing the planet around us, then we must take action on it.