Plastics in the Ocean





Plastics in the Ocean


One of the major environmental worries today concerns the presence of plastic in the ocean. This has had negative effects on marine life, the environment, and the economy. The amount of plastic dumped in the ocean each year is estimated at eight million tons. All the plastic in the oceans is as a result of human action. People use plastics and they dispose them at will. Poor garbage collection contributes to the increasing levels of plastics that find their way to the ocean. Countries along coastlines also contribute to huge amounts of the plastic found in the oceans. There are 192 coastal countries that border the world oceans including the Atlantic, Indian, and pacific as well as the black sea and the Mediterranean seas (Laura). These countries are responsible for most of the plastic pollution in the oceans. Countries that have huge populations such as America and China are major contributors of plastic. Plastic has become increasingly popular and people use it for different reasons. In 2012, countries around the world produced an estimated 288 million tons of plastic (Laura). Ocean plastic is disastrous to the management and marine life and there is a need to reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans by limiting the amount of plastics on land.

Sources of the Ocean Plastic

Plastic has become one of the most popular materials around the world. It is preferred because of its adaptability, durability, and strength. Plastics are used in the manufacture of many diverse items ranging from consumable to non-consumable goods. It is also used for product packaging and for the manufacture of carrying bags. It is used in the medicine to manufacture items such as syringes and medical bags. Some fishing nets and other fishing tools are made of plastics. Plastic is not degradable and this causes an immediate danger to the environment. Developed countries tend to develop a lot of plastic and other non-organic waste. However, most of these countries have good waste disposal and management systems and they encourage recycling. High populations in coastal cities in these countries contribute to most of the plastic waste in the ocean (Allsopp et al. 10). Although developing countries do not produce as much plastic as countries in the developed world, they have poor waste management systems and infrastructure. Therefore, coastal countries in the developing regions are also major contributors of plastics in the oceans. Therefore, it is clear that everyone has a responsibility towards preventing the accumulation of plastics in the oceans.

Rainfall carries garbage and debris to the oceans. Other pieces of plastics are blown from the bins and garbage sites to the seas, while other forms of garbage fall during transportation to dumping sites. Storm water also contributes to increasing the plastic in the ocean. It drains in the waterways before traveling to the oceans. Sewer systems in the urban areas carry sewage debris to the oceans, especially during heavy rainfall. Rivers emptying to the sea carry with them plastic waste and other debris. Plastic is a major concern because of its non-degradable nature. Some of the plastic floats on the ocean waters and finds its ways to the shore. Other heavy plastics sink on the ocean floor. Other plastics become small debris once they are exposed to the sun and the saltwater in the oceans. The small pieces can last in the oceans for a long time. They can also absorb other poisonous pollutants in the ocean. Some of the plastic is thrown on the beaches and is carried by the waves to the oceans. As tourists and other people spend their time on the beaches, they tend to carry various forms of plastic such as bottles and other beverage products, packaging from foods, toys, and different forms of micro plastics. Other forms of plastic come from fisheries and marine activities such as nets and strapping bands. Other plastics can come from ships and boats.

Costs and Effects

Plastic pollution in the oceans has huge environmental costs. Most of the plastic pollution in the ocean affects marine life. Marine wildlife ingests the plastic and this has serious negative consequences. Most of the marine animals that ingest plastics are sea turtles, whales, and fish. The animals confuse the debris for food. They end up chocking on the plastic when they eat it and they die. Ingestion is dangerous for marine life because it can lead to malnutrition, injury and death. Some of them starve since they cannot be able to eat any food once they have ingested the plastics. They get a false sense of fullness and this prevents them from feeding on nutritious foods. In addition, the plastics block their intestinal systems and this interferes with the normal intake and digestion of food. The absorbed plastic can prevent the animals from absorbing the right nutrients in their body. Animals can also starve because of the injuries they sustain when they ingest different forms of plastics. In addition, fish and other marine life can feed on the small plastic toxic debris. They then absorb the toxic substances and this puts them at risk and endangers other marine animals that depend on them for food. Some of the toxic substances absorbed can cause reproductive failure in some types of fish and some marine life. This will endanger the marine life if the animals fail to continue reproducing (EPA).

Some animals die when they are entangled by different forms of plastics such as fishing lines, nets, and strapping bands. A majority of the animals that are entangled include seals and sea lions. Other marine creatures such as porpoises, manatees, turtles, and dolphins have also been entangled. Entanglement traps the animals and it can cause scars as the animals are trying to free themselves. The animals can become injured during the process. In some cases, the entangled interferes with the physical development of the animals. This happens when the animals are not able to free themselves and they have to live like that. Some of the animals drown when they become entangled. Death of marine life from ingestion and entanglement can lead to population reductions of such animals.

Plastics also affect birds such as albatross, northern fulmar, and harbor porpoises. The sea birds confuse floating plastics for something edible and they end up ingesting them. They also feed them to the younger birds. Seabirds that feed on plastics have low weight because they cannot feed properly. The birds starve as their stomachs are often filled with plastic debris instead of food.

The plastics in the ocean affect the oceans ecosystem and it changes the biodiversity of the affected regions. It has led to the destruction of coral reefs and the invasion of foreign species. Plastics can break the coral reefs when they enter the ocean. Plastics can travel long distances and they can carry small sea creatures and plants to other areas. The alien species can grow and become invasive in the new regions and this disrupts the biodiversity in a region. Some of the plastics can suffocate the coral and smother the plants in the oceans. The heavy plastics that sink can destroy the ocean floor (EPA).

Ocean plastic can be a hazard to human life. This can happen directly or indirectly. People endanger their lives when they consume contaminated fish. As noted, some of the plastics contain poisonous substances while other absorb toxic substances from the material in the ocean. Animals absorb the poisonous elements and this harms them. The effect is transferred to humans who end up consuming the contaminated fish. Plastics can cause direct risk to humans. For instance, people can get injuries when they step on plastic debris on the beaches. Swimmers and divers can become entangled as well. This can cause injury and put their lives at risk. Anglers and other ocean travelers risk their lives when they travel in polluted waters because of the possibility of ship or boat damage (EPA).

Plastic pollution in the oceans has economic costs. It can lead to loss of tourism revenues in the coastal areas. Dirty beaches are unattractive and people will avoid them when they can no longer swim in them. This leads to the destruction of the regions economy. The plastic pollution is also detrimental to the economy because the government has to spend a lot of money cleaning the beaches. People whose lives depend on fishing suffer because of plastic pollution. This happens when there is a drastic reduction of fish in the ocean. This can happen when the fish die from the plastic or when they become too sick to be consumed. In addition, anglers catch fewer fish as their nets become entangled with plastics. They also have to keep ensuring that the plastics do not damage propellers and anchors are not destroyed by the debris. People also realize economic losses when their boats and ships are destroyed when they are entangled by plastics.

Efforts made to Control the Problem

People recognize the consequences of having plastic in the oceans. It is not possible for a single country to work alone when trying to reduce plastics in the ocean. This requires efforts by all coastal countries as well as input and cooperation from other countries. This is because plastic has a light density and it can travel for long distances. Plastic debris has been found in isolated and remote areas of the artic. Therefore, nations and regions need to cooperate to ensure that minimal plastic finds its way to the ocean. This has led to the establishments of laws aimed at limiting the dumping of plastic waste in the ocean. For instance, Annex V of the International Maritime Organization provides for the outlawing of plastic and other garage disposal at sea. Since its introduction in 1988, 122 countries have ratified the treaty. However, most of the polluting substances come from land and there is a need to engage different groups of people in order to reduce plastic pollution. The European Union has established the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which contains provision for the protection of the marine environment. It covers issues concerning marine waste and contamination.

Control and Solution to the Problem

The most effective way of controlling and limiting the plastics in the oceans is to ensure that it does not get there in the first place. This involves active participation of people, organizations, and governments. International, national, and non governmental organizations that are concerned with marine life and the environment can work with governments to ensure that there is a reduction or total eradication of wastes from the lands to the sea. These organizations can help in raising awareness concerning the pollution, its extent, consequences, and causes. They can come up with practical ways of reducing the plastic content that flows to the sea and pass their proposals to the government. They can also play an active role by becoming advocates and by taking measures that will ensure that plastics do not go to the oceans. For instance, locally based organizations can work with individual communities, cities, and towns to ensure that all the plastic materials are recycled.

Governments need to provide the required resources for recycling and garbage collection and disposal. In addition, it also needs to create awareness among people and educate them concerning the dangers of disposing plastics. The government can also help by establishing policies that will reduce the usage of plastic and ensure that people are made responsible. Individual responsibility can also help to solve the problem of plastics. This will require people to take individual effort by ensuring that they minimize their consumption of plastics as much as possible. In addition, they need to ensure that they recycle the plastics used

Manufacturers have a role to play in reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean. They can choose to produce products from natural materials because such products are friendly to the environment. They also need to encourage consumers to recycle their products and manufacture products from recyclable materials.

There is a need to raise awareness concerning the effects of plastic and the need to protect marine life in the developing and middle-income countries. This is because such countries are increasing their consumption of plastics. In the case of middle-income countries, the people need to be sensitized on the need to put the right infrastructure in place and to invest more in land waste management. The developing and poor countries along the coasts may not have the means to ensure sufficient management of waste. They have more pressing needs and they might not think much about waste. Therefore, the wealthier developed countries can help by providing the right training and infrastructure to manage waste while it is still on the land. This will ensure that minimal waste goes to the sea. The developed countries cannot win the war against ocean plastic pollution by working alone. Because of the light density of the plastic, they will continue dealing with garbage as it flows from other regions. Therefore, there is a need for all stakeholders concerned to cooperate with other people, organizations, governments, countries, and regions.


Ocean plastic has become one of the major environmental concerns today. It has increased significantly over the years as people continue to increase their dependence on plastic. People prefer plastics because they are relatively lower in cost, durable, and easy to use. However, their durability is the main cause of the problems experienced in the oceans. Because plastics are not degradable, they remain in the oceans for a long time. They have significant and severe negative consequences on marine life, marine ecosystems, and birds. In addition, they affect humans directly and indirectly. Moreover, ocean plastics have direct and indirect economic costs. The most effective way to reduce plastic in the oceans is to ensure that it does not get there in the first place. This can be achieved by ensuring that governments have good infrastructure and the right equipment for waste management. Education and awareness are also important. People need to be taught about the importance of managing waste, reducing the use of plastics, reusing, and recycling. In addition, developed countries need to cooperate with developing and emerging countries to minimize the waste. Cooperation between agencies and organizations concerned with management issues is important.

Works Cited:

Allsopp, Michelle et al. “Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans.” United Nations Environment Programme. 2007. Web. 29 Apr. 2015

EPA. “Marine Debris Impact.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. 6 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2015

Parker, Laura. “Eight Million Tons of Plastic Dumped in Ocean Every Year.” National Geographic. 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015

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