Marine Debris in Ocean Pollution – What, Why, and How?

Did you know that our oceans make up a whopping 71% of the Earth? That’s almost three-quarters of the entire globe! It’s no wonder that ocean pollution is one of the most well-known hot topics. 

A myriad of components contribute to it, but in this post, we will be focusing on marine debris. 

 

What Is Marine Debris?

Simply put, rubbish in our seas.

They consist of plastics and synthetics in varying sizes that have been discarded in the sea, both accidentally and deliberately. This is a familiar sight for most, having seen or experienced finding trash first-hand on beaches or in seas. 

As the majority are durable and buoyant, they are carried by ocean currents and tend to accumulate at ocean gyres (systems of rotating currents). The most extreme examples will be the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).

 

Why Is Marine Debris Bad?

They are a threat to our precious and colourful aquatic wildlife.

Firstly, they pose a direct danger to the animals, an issue that has been receiving more media exposure in recent years. Some of the litter, such as fishing lines, entangle animals that swim through them, or birds that dive down into the ocean to capture fish. Death by strangulation is a very real concern, one that many have been calling awareness to. 

Another such problem is the consumption of these oceanic wastes by animals that mistake them for food. A well-known example is the turtles that unknowingly ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. 

Marine Debris - Plastics and Fishing Net on shore

However, there are many more indirect impacts that do not receive as much awareness but are just as significant.

Small organisms like invertebrates and algae can be harboured and transported to non-native regions, where they can become invasive. 

Rubbish like plastics can also cling to corals and kill entire reefs. Toxic debris can become even more so by sorbing (gather by absorption or adsorption) other pollutants.1 microbead can be a million times more toxic than the water around it. If consumed and integrated into the food web, these toxins can be deadly or eventually affect us as they build up in our food. 

 

Are Straws Really The Problem?

Out of the 8 million tons (~8,000,000,000kg) of plastic that flow into the ocean every year, straws make up only 0.025%.

Marine Debris - Rice Straws
Rice Straws – a great alternative to plastic!

In actuality, the attention that the straws receive is disproportionate to the actual impact they have in relation to other trash.  

If you are already using tote bags and any one of the many reusable straw types, great! However, in spite of the existing movements to ban the use of single-use plastics like straws and plastic bags, there is still definitely much more that we can do. 

While plastic straws are receiving a lot of exposure online (due to this video of the sea turtle that went viral), there are other bigger issues to tackle. 

 

Fishing = oceanic pollution?

The fishing industry is the main contributor to marine debris.

Fishing nets constitute a staggering 46% of the GPGP, with much of the rest being discarded fishing equipment. 

Marine Debris - Fishing Nets

Furthermore, fishing also has numerous other adverse effects on the environment and wildlife.

Bottom trawling completely destroys everything in its pursuit to capture fish, be it oyster beds, coral reefs or sponges. Longline fishing is the single biggest reason for the continued depletion of albatross populations due to bycatch, with many species now threatened by extinction. And the list goes on. 

 

What Can I Do?

Instead of stopping at finding sustainable alternatives to everyday plastic products, why not also try and make slight changes in our lifestyles? 

We can all try and make small changes to our own diets to reduce or even eliminate seafood. By cutting down on seafood consumption, the support and demand for seafood and the fishing industry will be lessened. 

 

If you love seafood, don’t fret!! You can source for sustainable seafood and enjoy that instead! Go a step further, and write to your local governments or petition online to tighten fishing regulations.

Hopefully, less waste will be disposed irresponsibly in the ocean and our biodiversity will be better conserved and protected!

 

 

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