How much plastic have you used today? Chances are, quite a bit.
Plastic is found in products all around us and has become an integral part of our daily lives. Unfortunately, plastic is often not disposed of properly and is threatening the health of our oceans. From bottle caps and fishing lines to plastic bags and packaging, about 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Most of this plastic is considered "single use" and is designed to be thrown away after just a few minutes.
Just how bad is the problem?
Marine debris is a threat to marine life, the economy and even human health. Plastic and synthetic materials are the most common types of marine debris released into the ocean. According to National Geographic, there is currently a total of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic swirling in the ocean, some of which gets washed up along shorelines or sinks to the seafloor. However, most debris remains on the surface and accumulates in the ocean's rotating currents called gyres. These gyres are notorious for creating large "garbage patches" that are highly concentrated with floating trash. Many species suffer from ingesting marine debris, which is responsible for the death of over one million seabirds annually. When an animal eats plastic it often suffocates or starves due to the artificial feeling of being full. Sea turtles, many of which are already endangered, often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and are found dead with stomachs full of plastic trash. Whales, dolphins, sharks and many other animals often get injured from entanglement in fishing line and nets. Discarded or lost fishing gear called "ghost gear" is often found caught on shipwrecks or covering reefs and traps fish and other marine life.
How does plastic pollution affect us?
The problem is that, unlike biodegradable materials, plastic is designed to last forever and never really goes away. Plastic debris left floating in the ocean weathers over time and just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. When marine life absorb or ingest these plastic fragments, toxins enter and move up the food chain. Thousands of personal care products such as toothpaste and face wash contain tiny plastic particles called "microbeads". Microbeads end up in the ocean after they are flushed down the drain because wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter particles of this size. Microbeads have been found in high concentrations in many fish species and having become a growing concern.
What can I do?
You can do your part to protect the oceans from plastic debris by reducing your plastic consumption. A simple solution is to use reusable bags when shopping, use reusable water bottles, and to purchase personal care products that do not contain microbeads. When you do use plastic make sure to recycle, and spread the word to educate others on the problems with plastic debris in the ocean. You can also help by supporting Miami Waterkeeper, which works to protect and defend Biscayne Bay and surrounding waters. Take action by volunteering with us to clean our coastlines and keep them looking beautiful and healthy. Let us know if you encounter pollution or debris so we can help keep Miami sparkling.
Check out our latest beach clean up at Virginia Key! Most of what volunteers found polluting our beaches was plastic.
--Written by MWK Fellow Devika Kaul