The Plastic State of Ocean

plasticstate 1 AW51365V

Researchers believe there are more 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. While about 20% are afloat, in transit or trapped at the five known plastic gyres, more than four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometre are in the deep sea. Be afraid; be very afraid of these scary numbers. Frightening numbers!

We dump eight million tonnes of plastic in the ocean every year. A recent survey of the Australian coastline documented three-quarters of coastal rubbish is plastic, averaging more than six pieces per meter of coastline. Offshore, densities vary from a few thousand pieces to more than 40,000 of plastic per square kilometre.

Be it on the surface or in the deep ocean, plastic has massive potential for devastation. Fishing debris such as ghost nets and lines, snag and drown turtles, seals, and other marine wildlife. An estimate of around 10,000 turtles has been trapped by derelict nets in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria region alone. More than 680 species of marine animals are known to interact with plastic litter. Most significant of which are sea turtles, which often mistake floating plastic for jellyfish. It is estimated that over one third of sea turtles have eaten plastic of some form globally. Likewise, seabirds eat everything from plastic caps, toys, buttons, to balloon shreds and foam, fishing floats and even glow sticks! I have to emphasise that one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually by plastic in our oceans.

Here is a revelation you should consider the next time you eat fish: As plastic is cherished for its durability and inertness, it also serves as a chemical magnet for environmental contaminants such as metals, fertilisers and tenacious organic pollutants. These are adsorbed into the plastic. When a fish or crustacean eats a plastic meal, these chemicals make their way into their tissues and ultimately into our bodies when we consume seafood! It has been documented that 93% of Americans aged six and older tested positive for BPA (Bisphenol A, an organic synthetic compound). Expectant mothers, beware: the more seafood you eat, the more plastic you are passing on to your child!


plasticstate 2 AW51338A

It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated). In the Celebes Sea Speciation expedition in 2007, we did a survey of the deep ocean of South Philippines — 2.5 kilometres deep; we found meadows of plastic derelicts. Eternity takes on a new meaning.

I have to emphasis, one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. Forty-four percent of all seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. Because of the longevity (or rather, the enteral life of plastic), they are killing machines. A single plastic bag can be a serial killer; an animal that dies from a bag will decompose and the bag will be released, another animal could fall victim and once again eat the same bag! A very scary exposé.

According to scientists who researched on 2010 data from 192 coastal countries with rising waste levels, they estimated that more than 9 million tons would have end up in the oceans in 2015. China was responsible for the most ocean plastic pollution per year, with an estimated 2.4 million tons, about 30% of the global total, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. So it seems that these five countries are responsible for up to 60 percent of the marine plastic entering our oceans, according to Stemming the Tide, a study released by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

The United States was the only rich industrialized nation in the top 20, and it ranked No. 20. Coastal EU nations combined would rank 18th. However, people in the United States produce less than 1% of global waste — produce more than 2.5 kg of plastic waste per person per day

which is more than twice the amount of people in China (1.1 kg per person per day). Australia scored at the lower end of the scale, adding up to 250,000 tonnes of marine plastics to the ocean, but based on its population size, it is matching the USA at 2.32 kg per day comparing to densely populated Singapore and Indonesia, 1.49 kg and 0.52 kg respectively*. The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) forecast that the cumulative impact to the oceans could be as high as 155 million metric tonnes by 2025.

Dumping plastic into the ocean is like killing your mother with cyanide, filling up your lung with carbon monoxide. The oceans are the lungs of the our planet. It produces 70% of the oxygen on Earth. Dumping plastic into the ocean is therefore the equivalent of trying to breathe with a plastic bag over your head. Plastic has eternal devastating effects on our ocean, choking marine life to death, dramatically distorting ecosystems and inflicting environmental havoc that is akin to the global warming crisis. Without the ocean, we all will perish.

plasticstate 8AW9568

11 Ways to Win the Plastic War

  1. Reuse as many plastic items as you can.  Better still opt for non-plastic options e.g. fabric bags, metal or glass waterbottles.
  2. Say No to straws, single use plastic bag and disposable plates, forks, and spoons .
  3. Use less of everyday plastics – shopping bag, juice cartons. Replace reusable lunch bag/box that includes a thermos.
  4. Bring your own mug for takeaway coffee. If you forget, choose outlets that offer degradable cups.
  5. Go digital! Buy your music and movies online.
  6. Seek out alternatives to the plastic items.
  7. Recycle. If you must use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics.
  8. Initiate or volunteer at a beach and dive clean-up. The next time you go near a beach, take out 10 mins to clean up garbage. If you are diver, make it a point to remove any plastic bag or bottles you see while diving. 
  9. Support plastic bag bans, Styrofoam bans, and bottle recycling bills.
  10. Spread the word – encourage the ban of single-use plastic. Encourage friends and family to watch A PLASTIC OCEAN.
  11. Reuse any suitably travel-sized bottles and containers by refilling them instead of buying travel-sized toiletries.

Read More Articles - Sign-up for More Full Articles (free)

Essay by Michael AW ( OG 41)

Blog & Review Categories

Blog & Review Archive

© 2016 Ocean Geographic Society. All Rights Reserved.