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Image Courtesy: https://www.pewtrusts.org/
The amount of plastic we accumulate across dump yards reaches an enormous proportion indeed. Not to forget the fact on how many plastic bottles or plastic cups do travelers dump across oceans, rivers, seas, tributaries, lakes, and other surrounding water bodies. The marine species that live beneath the oceans get impacted with these kind of debris. It is estimated that almost 13 million metric tones of plastic wastes enter the oceans every year. To take your imagination to this quantum, it is like depositing a truck load of plastic debris inside your homes or toilets. Feeling repulsive right? The sea animals or aquatic species cannot explain in words the suffering or stress they go through on account of the same.
A gray whale was stranded at the beach in Seattle during the year 2010. Its stomach had 20 plastic bags, a golf course ball and other rubbish deposited. Can you even imagine how terrible it feels? A harbor seal pup was found dead on the Scottish Island of Skye. Its intestines revealed plastic wrappers. The finding revealed almost 20 kgs of plastic debris found inside its intestines. A sea turtle was found lying amid a pool of blood near the Pacific Ocean. There was this dead albatross chick found on Midway Atoll near the Pacific Ocean. The findings revealed plastic debris inside its stomach. A dolphin has a plastic bag trailing from its fins across the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago in Brazil. There are countless such incidents. According to the reports that were generated by the UN some time ago, it is estimated that nearly 800 species worldwide are affected by oceanic debris getting inside their tummies. Dolphins, seahorses, seal pups, turtles, fishes, whales, and sharks! You can include the whole lot of them.
How does plastic litter affect marine species?
Fish, seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals get entangled via fishing nets thrown into the oceans by fishermen across the world. They also end up ingesting plastic debris which ultimately cause suffocation, starvation, and drowning. Not to forget the fact that humans can also get impacted via this kind of a threat. Right?
Plastics are estimated to decompose or dis-integrate themselves completely over a span of 200 – 500 years (or more). But sometimes, they break down into tiny particles even quicker than this. These tiny particles of plastic end up in our bodies via the seafood we eat or relish to our heart’s content.
What does the research indicate?
Research indicates that more than 50% of sea turtles worldwide have ingested plastic particles in some form or the other. When a sea animal or a sea mammal consumes plastic, it gives it’s stomach an artificial feeling of fullness. When this happens, it stops consuming oceanic food or even the smaller fishes. A whale can consume 100-200 smaller fishes to satiate its appetite. As the appetite is overflooded with plastic debris, the mammal stops consuming its original food. In the process, the sea animal starves. Again, plastic can lead to untimely suffocation as it ruptures through their intestines. The damage we humans may encounter when we consume huge amounts of plastic is replicated for these poor species.
Again, on many beaches, the plastic pollution is all pervasive and so much rampant and widespread. This can impact the reproduction rates of sea turtles. The plastic components alter the temperatures of the sand a sea turtle takes up for incubation. A recent study found that if a sea-turtle just ingests 14 particles of plastic, the incidence can trigger the death of the animal. The younger turtles are more likely at risk as they are not selective as their mothers or dads in picking up their food-choices. They just chew on particles that drift across oceanic currents. Have you ever seen an infant nibbling on to the plastic remote case cover or what ever it finds on its way? The sea turtles too do the same not realizing the havoc that toxic plastic materials can cause to their bodies.
Wake up to a gloomy future across the seas
Statistics tell us that we are losing three million turtles annually due to dumping of oceanic wastes into seas and rivers. Why do you think this happens? Scientists estimate that at least 60% of marine species would have consumed plastic particles in one form or the other. If things continue going at this rate, 99% of aquatic species would be lost off the oceans attributing this to plastic dumping. Our oceans nourish the planet Earth and bring rains to most parts of the globe. When aquatic species die, the oceanic eco-systems too collapse. This can have a very severe impact on the well being of humans. One can expect drastic changes on climatic conditions. Hence, we are putting our own survival at stake.
How do other aquatic species react to the whole thing?
As a matter of fact, dolphins are highly intelligent. Hence it is unlikely they deliberately eat something made from plastic. However, they are susceptible to contamination through prey that have ingested synthetic compounds.
Plastic therefore affects creatures from big to small. From seabirds, dolphins, whales to tiny seahorses that live on coral reefs. Here is a classic example of a seahorse wrapping its tail via a cotton swab near Sumbawa Island in Indonesia. You find schools of fishes residing near the mangroves. A plastic band restricts the growth of a grunt fish at the Caribbean Sea.
Plastic wastes can therefore cause more harm to eco-systems than good. Human inhabitation has already been crashing eco-systems badly. This is mainly because our race exploits precious natural resources which no other species on the planet have ever committed. Plastic wastes can also encourage the growth of pathogens across coral reefs. Statistics clearly reveal that corals that meet plastic have 89% chances for species to contract diseases as against coral reefs that do not meet plastic. Unless something concrete is done about this, scientists warn us that the combined weight of plastic will outweigh the weight of all the fish in the seas by 2050.
Simple solutions like avoiding single use plastic, refusing unnecessary plastic bags, always saying a strict no-no to plastic straws, cups and cutlery, can go a long way in making our planet Plastic-Free by choosing products of ethical vendors such as The Happy Turtle, Goli Soda, Boondh, Eco Femme, SuckIn Eco Straws, Adaaya and Wild Ideas.
Ideas taken from: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/09/24/plastic-pollution-affects-sea-life-throughout-the-ocean#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%20up,suffocation%2C%20starvation%2C%20and%20drowning.