The Ocean’s Plastic Problem

“Humanity’s plastic footprint is probably more dangerous than its carbon footprint” 

-Captain Charles Moore, discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997

The discussion regarding plastic waste within the ocean has become a very relevant topic in recent years both politically and socially. However while it is evident that plastic pollution poses a major problem to marine wildlife the specific problems plastic induces both to human and animal health are not often examined thoroughly enough.

Currently around 80% of plastic debris comes from land through activities such as litter in storm drains or the dumping of appliances. But the real problem that plastic possesses comes from it’s inability to decompose. For example it’s estimated that plastic bags take around 20 years to decompose, plastic bottles can take upwards of 450 years, and fishing lines take 650. This results in long term issues for the environment since these plastics break into smaller pieces making them problematic for marine species.

In a 22 year study the Sea Education Association released, it concluded that the most plastic pollution was found in the North Atlantic Gyre with an average of around 20,300 pieces per square kilometer. Furthermore according to Project Kaisei around 70 percent of anthropogenic waste released into the ocean sinks to the bottom, making it impossible for scientists to determine how much plastic the ocean actually contains.

It is undeniable that plastic waste is harming marine species, but to what extent are they harming humans. A study done by Algalita, a nonprofit aimed to combat the ocean plastic crisis, found that over 50% of plastic samples contained carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides such as DDD which is closely related to DDT, a banned pesticide worldwide due to its harmful effects on human health. When these plastics are consumed by marine animals these persistent organic pollutants can concentrate up to a million times through accumulation thereby endangering the humans that consume it.

While currently the effects of these plastics are still being closely examined by scientists, the best way to reduce plastic pollution is to prevent it from entering the ocean in the first place.

-Allen Shen

Sources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-waste-microplastics/

https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/01/26/our-oceans-a-plastic-soup/

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