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Earth’s Marine Life on a Plastic Diet

 

In recent years plastic has become one of the most ubiquitous materials in the world and has applications in almost all industries and packaging. This has led to astounding 300-million tons of plastic being consumed every year.

Plastic is notorious for not being easily biodegradable and usually takes around a thousand years to degrade into smaller plastic fragments, which is why it is astonishing that only 15 percent of the world’s plastic is actually recycled.

By comparison, almost 88 percent of the world’s steel and 63 percent of paper is recycled, but sadly plastic is being discarded instead of being recycled and usually ends up in our oceans. In fact, all of the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet and still exists around us today.

Today, over 700 species of marine life are under the threat of becoming extinct either due to consumption of plastic materials or getting tangled up and getting suffocated to death.

According to official figures, more than 1 million marine animals and sea birds die every year from plastic ingestion including fish, dolphins, sea birds, whales, turtles and polar bears to name a few.

Plastic Threatening the Existence of Marine Life

Plastic and micro plastic fragments can be extremely dangerous to our ecology since these can easily be ingested by fish and then transferred to other animals along the food chain including humans; it is estimated that people who consumer marine animals like shellfish can ingest almost 11,000 fragments of micro plastic every year and it is estimated that at this rate, by 2050, our oceans might contain more plastic than fish!

The small plastic fragments that are ingested by marine animals can be very toxic and can have a negative impact on all of our bodily functions including various cancers, puberty, reduced fertility, premature childbirth and birth defects.

Some of the chemicals found in plastic are linked with a reduction in sperm count, genital defects and tumors so in short if you are habitual of eating fish regularly, there are chances you’re ingesting an unhealthy amount of plastic which can have serious consequences.

Why Do Fish keep Eating Plastic?

A new study has found the reason to why a majority of marine life including sea birds have been ingesting plastic for decades; it smells like food. Floating pieces of plastic can be a platform for sea algae to grow and since algae is a food source for many marine animals; it breaks down on the plastic fragments to release an odor which attracts nearby animals who, instead of eating krill and algae, end up ingesting large quantities of plastic.

Additionally, plastic is also consumed by fish because to them it resembles food they routinely eat and can mistake large pieces of plastic for jellyfish or small pieces for other forms of food they normally consume

Marine animals usually use their sense of smell to hunt for food which is why the smell of sulfur in plastic or the smell of algae and krill can entice an animal to ingest it; If it looks and smells like food, then it should probably be food right?

For many years now, researches have implied that it’s the shape and physical attributes of plastic that entice animals to eat them but this new research suggests that it might actually be the appearance in conjunction with the smell that actually lures animals to consume plastic in our oceans.

What can We Do?

In light of the current situation, there is an urgent need for proactive steps to be taken to minimize and limit the amount of plastic being discarded or consumed every day. Reducing the application of plastic in our everyday lives does not necessarily mean giving up on plastic altogether but rather maximizing the benefit from plastic used whilst incurring minimum impact on our ecology.

We must realize that each and every one of us can be play an instrumental role individually which will collectively and as a whole bring an end to the slow destruction and suffocation of both our oceans and the marine life by opting for better alternatives for daily use.

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