Marine Debris

The ocean is littered with trash; however, plastics make up the majority of marine debris. Backed by its durability, low cost, and malleability, plastic is increasingly used in consumer and industrial products.

 Unfortunately, plastic goods do not biodegrade but instead break down into smaller pieces posing the question; how does the use of plastic pose a danger to marine life? The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spanning the waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan sticks out like a sour thumb in the sea, owing to the impending dangers it poses on the ecosystem and marine life on an area spanning 20 million square kilometers.

Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70 percent of marine debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean, accentuating effects. Marine animals and plants in the gyre are most affected. According to National Geographic, loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food.

Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs. That notwithstanding, the trash collected on the ocean’s surface blocks sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below, a threat that would potentially disrupt the entire food chain.

For instance, a reduction in the population of the animals feeding on algae and plankton will signal less food for apex predators such as tuna, sharks, and whales which will have a rippling effect on a plate of seafood making it more expensive for people.

marine debris
Illustration of how much debris is present in our waterbodies source @online

Additionally, a 2018 study found that synthetic fishing nets made up nearly half the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, due largely to ocean current dynamics and increased fishing activity, making ghost fishing a painful reality when seals, bears, and other marine animals are dragged and drowned by abandoned nets.

The majority of the plastic debris in the ocean is from land-based sources with an estimate of 80 percent and the remaining 20 percent comes from boats and marine sources. The statistics point to a need for action in plastic waste management through extensive recycling and reuse, to patch the garbage patch, which would, according to Charles Moore a Sailor who has led an expedition through the patch, bankrupt any country where they try to clean it.

The upcoming International Zero Waste Day (Zero Waste Day – ZWD), scheduled for March 30th, 2024, should become a turning point in the global resolve to step up waste management.

Commendably, several countries, most notably Kenya through legislation are doing their part in curtailing the use of plastics. Individual responsibility, Civic education, and investment in waste recycling need to become a priority if the global community is to address the impending catastrophe of Marine debris.

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