The invention of plastics revolutionized the world. Plastics are durable, cheap, lightweight, and strong, and as such, the uses and applications of plastics are endless. As plastic production and use expands, so the plastic items found polluting the environment increase. With an increase in plastics in the marine environment, species are more likely to interact with it, often to their detriment. Primarily these interactions include entanglement and ingestion, which has been recorded in 267 species of birds, fish and marine mammals. Entanglement can lead to loss of limb and life, and ingestion can lead to blocked digestive tracts resulting in reduced appetite, starvation and possible death, damaged stomach lining, reduced quality of life and reproductive capacity, and potential absorption of toxic compounds. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine the extent to which marine debris affects marine species as many animals die at sea where they either sink, are predated, or remain concealed floating in marine debris.
So, what is the solution? The problem is well publicised, often associated with gruesome pictures, but what about the solution? The 3 R’s are well known: reduce, reuse, and recycle. But perhaps we need to embrace a few more R’s. Refuse to use one-use plastics like straws and plastic shopping bags. Rethink and Redesign product packaging. Reinvent a better compound to replace plastics. Be Responsible about what we buy.
Written by: Minke Witteveen
For more reading:
• Laist, D. 1987. Overview of the biological effects of lost and discarded plastic debris in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin 18: 319-326.
• Laist, D.W. 1997. Impacts of marine debris: Entanglement of marine life in marine debris including a comprehensive list of species with entanglement and ingestion records. In: Coe, J.M., Rogers, D.B. (eds) Marine Debris. New York: Springer-Verlag. pp 99-139.