by Youth Ocean Advocate Lycia T.
For most of us, plastics are part of our everyday lives. We drink from our plastic water bottles, carry our groceries home in plastic bags, use plastic utensils to eat and use our skin care products with plastic micro beads. But what if I told you that plastics aren’t just a part of our everyday lives? It is a part of marine animals’ lives too. Only for these animals, the plastics aren’t helpful, they’re poisonous.
When plastics are not properly disposed of, they often end up in the water. Plastics are extremely dangerous, because, not only do they photo degrade, meaning over time they break down into smaller pieces, but they are also extremely durable. This means that plastic can stay in the ocean for hundreds of years. But this still doesn’t answer the question, why are plastics so dangerous to the animals? Well, there isn’t just one answer. One answer is that animals mistake plastic for food. Sea turtle often see plastic bags floating in the water and can mistake them for jelly fish and small fish can mistake micro beads as plankton. And according to EcoWatch, “Once in these animals bodies the plastic bioaccumulates, and the chemicals can cause excess estrogen to be produced, which has led to discoveries of male fish with female sex organs. For sea turtles, the plastic blocks their digestive tract and the food that is trapped releases gases that render them buoyant, and unable to dive for food”. Also, animals that eat plastics believe they have eaten actual food and are full. But, since plastics offer no nutritional value, the animals often starve to death. Plastics also acts as a sponge, soaking up pesticides and other harmful chemicals. This sounds like a good thing, except when the plastic is eaten, the chemicals soaked up by the plastics can be very sickening to the animal and sometimes even deadly. Another problem with plastics is that animals can get entangled. Seals, for example, will often play with plastic netting and straps which can catch on their necks. The plastic can constrict the seal’s movement causing the seal to die from starvation or infection from the material.
So, what can we do? The good news is a lot has been done. On December 31, 1988, The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act made it illegal for U.S. vessels or land based operations to dispose of plastics into the water. Plastic manufacturers are also trying to develop degradable plastics. Also many cities are placing a ban on plastic bags and instead encouraging customers to use reusable bags. Very recently, President Obama signed a law banning the use of micro beads in skin and hygiene products, a bill scheduled to come into full effect by July 2017. This is all great, but nothing will change unless we all start to make changes. Using a reusable water bottle and bag instead of plastic ones and buying hygiene products without micro beads, these are all small changes we can make that can make huge changes to our oceans and the marine animals that live there.