Plastics in the Marine Environment

The following information is from the Blue Ocean Society:
Plastic Facts:
  • Marine litter can be defined as any man-made object present in the marine environment
  • 50% or more of marine litter is in some form of plastic. Examples include: raw plastic pellets, plastic bags and sheeting, monofilament fishing nets and multi-pack soda can holders
  • Plastics have been extremely beneficial for humans in that they are more durable, lightweight, cheap and versatile as opposed to traditional materials such as wood or glass. However, it is exactly the lightweight nature of plastics which can make them deadly in the marine environment, as plastic items can float on the surface of the ocean or within the water column
  • Plastics are composed of long chains of hydrocarbons, which are hydrogen and carbon atoms that are bound together very tightly. Micro-organisms such as plankton do not have the ability to break down these bonds and therefore plastic does not decompose easily.
  • Plastics are the most common man-made object sighted at sea. During a 1998 survey, 89% of the trash observed floating in the North Pacific Ocean was plastic
  • The raw form of plastics, called resin pellets, constitute a large part of marine debris, but unfortunately they are relatively unnoticed.
  • Many common plastic objects such as bottles, sheeting and Styrofoam cups were found on remote Arctic beaches of the southern Beaufort Sea.
  • In 1960, almost 6.3 billion pounds of plastic was produced in the United States. By the early 1970's the figure had tripled and continued to increase to a volume of approximately 50 billion pounds in 1988. This is more than 10 pounds of plastic for every person on earth!
  • The packaging industry used more than 14 billion pounds of plastics in 1987 with nearly all of that ending up as waste.
  • Plastic sheeting has been documented in the stomachs of sperm whales, round-toothed dolphins and a Curvier beaked whale.
  • Many sea turtles frequently swallow plastic bags when they mistake them for jelly fish, which is one of their favorite foods.
  • One turtle found in New York had actually consumed 590 feet of heavy duty fishing line!

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Aldo Leopold: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

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