World Oceans Day is held annually on June 8, and 2018’s action focus is on preventing plastic pollution, which kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.
Eight million tons of plastic end up in oceans annually, and 80 percent of all ocean pollution comes from humans. Unfortunately, plastic pollution is becoming a big problem in our oceans. Bottle caps, cigarette lighters, bags and plastic packaging that we discard on land find their way into rivers and streams and are carried out to sea. The trash mixes with abandoned boats, fishing nets and shipping refuse to make up swirling masses of marine debris that can form large, floating garbage patches. The larger plastics can also break down into tiny beads or fibers, creating microplastics that are hard to clean up.
The patch is located halfway between California and Hawaii and has grown to more than 600,000 square miles! That’s three times the size of France!
Accumulated in this area are 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 80,000 metric tons, the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets. The trash in this area comes from countries around the Pacific Rim, such as nations in Asia as well as North and South America.
How does plastic affect marine ecosystems?
Marine debris can be harmful to ocean ecosystems. Bigger marine debris, especially fishing gear, can entangle whales or sea turtles. Meanwhile, smaller pieces of marine debris can be ingested.
“If you see a seabird that skims the top of the ocean, a lot of the time it will ingest a pollutant at the top of the ocean. It can make them feel full, so they’re not going to get real nutrition. It can also lacerate their insides if it’s sharp,” Wallace said.
Smaller pieces of plastic may accumulate different chemicals or different pollutants that are already in the ocean. These plastic pieces are consumed by marine life, which humans then potentially eat.
Trash isn’t just a problem in remote areas of the Pacific Ocean. It affects ocean waters, beaches and marine life worldwide. Parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands along the coast are working to clean up plastic items, including tires, straws and balloons that harm wildlife and impact visitors’ public land experiences.
Learn more about the U.S. Department of the Interior is doing to combat this ocean pollution – https://www.doi.gov/blog/national-ocean-month-what-you-can-do-protect-public-waters