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Plastic debris: A major threat and challenge to make the entire ocean ecosystem back to life



People surely are fond of seas and beaches, but in today's world, their fondness leads us to one of the biggest concerns: the threat of pollution in the ocean itself. The credit for this crisis goes to none other than humans, as 80% of the debris we are sending to the oceans comes from land. Marine debris is defined as any persistent material or solid manufactured directly or indirectly, without intentions or with intentions, but later disposed of into the marine environment. It can be in any form, either as trash, cars, septic tanks, boats, trucks, or chemicals. But one of the biggest sources, the most harmful and common types of marine debris, include plastic, such as cigarette butts, plastic bags, food wrappers, beverage bottles, groceries, straws, and many more. Over the past decades, plastic has become a major waste not only in terrestrial regions but also in aquatic regions as well. As huge marine debris, plastic is highlighted as a serious problem found in oceans and rivers as well. A published report from the media says that at the deepest bottom of the Pacific Ocean, at Mariana Trench, below 11km of the ocean's surface, a plastic bag was found. Plastic is used to manufacture essential and general items like medical supplies, for storing food or food packing, and large plastic sheets for agricultural purposes as they are durable and designed for long-lasting usage.


The durability of plastic is one of the major causes of damage to marine ecosystems. While exposed to the sun, submerged in salt water, or with high-wave movement, make plastic fragments and break them into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics, due to their smaller size, are extremely difficult to take out or remove. Single-use plastic materials are the most unfortunate ones, as they were designed to be used once only and later get thrown away as trash in the surroundings if not recycled. The scientists estimated in their report that the overproduction of plastic is 300 million metric tonnes per year, of which up to 13 million metric tonnes of plastic, equivalent to a truck with a load of rubbish per minute, in the oceans each year. The United Nations stated that 800 species are affected by marine debris worldwide, of which 80% is plastic. If the same procedure for sea pollution continues, the estimated mass of plastic will exceed the mass of fish in the ocean by 2050. Scientists also estimated that 60% of seabird species have eaten plastic, and they predict this will rise to 99% by 2050. 


Plastic ended up as debris and reached the oceans: 

Plastic is a synthetic organic compound containing carbon, often made with petroleum. It is a flexible, inexpensive, lightweight material. 70% to 80% reach the oceans from land through various pathways. 


One of the most significant pathways is the flourishing rivers, where plastic waste flows and falls into the oceans. Plastic waste that is not properly managed is blown away by the wind or carried by river water. Improper disposal of waste in terrestrial regions, like dumping the waste into landfills or littering and throwing trash on the streets and parks, washes away with the rain, and, through the storm drains, directly falls into the river. Plastic waste directly enters the oceans from coastlines. Visitors to beaches throw trash directly on the beaches. Also, coastal towns, city communities, and industries near coastlines allow plastic waste to enter the oceans directly due to a lack of proper waste management. Fishing gear like nets or traps and improper waste management practices on ships also contribute to pollution. Once plastic enters the ocean, the currents and the wind will transport it over vast distances. 

 

Impact of plastic debris on sea creatures


Ingestion leads to death

Sea creatures mistook plastic for food and unknowingly ate it. From tiny plankton to large whales, this issue is severe. Eating plastic causes internal injuries from sharp plastics, malnutrition, and starvation, and leads to suffocation or death. Research indicates half of sea turtles have ingested plastic and later starve as their stomachs get filled with plastic already. Ocean species are suffering from tragic incidents due to plastic pollution. 2010 was the year of the most tragic incident when a grey whale near Seattle was found dead with more than 20 plastic bags and a golf ball with other rubbish in her stomach. Also, on the Scottish Island of Skye, a harbor seal pup fouled its intestines by swallowing a small piece of plastic wrapper and died. 


Entanglement leads to death

Species like sea turtles, marine mammals, or sea birds are entangled in plastic bags, fishing nets, or other plastic debris, which not only restricts the movement of these species but also makes them vulnerable to predators, or the animals may suffer from starvation or just drown and die. 

 

Chemical Contamination

Plastic releases toxic chemicals into the water, which are then released into the bodies of animals that ingest them. This can disrupt hormones, impair reproduction, and weaken the immune system. 


Impact of Plastic Debris on the Ecosystem


Disrupted food chain: 

Plastic pollution harms various organisms at different levels of the food chain, impacting the overall balance and stability of the ecosystem. 

 

Habitat Destruction: 

Plastic debris damages sensitive habitats such as coral reefs and seagrass beds, disrupting ecosystems, reducing biodiversity, and affecting the health of the entire ecosystem. 

 

Economic Impact:

Plastic debris damages fisheries, tourism, and other ocean-based industries, leading to economic losses for coastal communities that rely on healthy oceans for livelihoods. 


Plastic debris is a significant threat to marine ecosystems and creatures of the oceans, requiring global efforts to reduce, mitigate, and clean up marine pollution. The situation is alarming, as millions of tonnes of plastic enter the oceans annually. It is a crucial issue that must be addressed. We should raise issues and make efforts to reduce the use of plastic and improve waste management to clean up plastic pollution, which is causing harm to all. 

 

 

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