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  • Aaryan Doshi

The Plastic Series: Plastic in the Ocean


The Plastic Series: Plastic in the Ocean image: adobe firefly

According UNEP, almost 200 million tonnes of plastic can be found in our oceans. This plastic makes it way into the oceans through the rivers that serve as conduits to transport this waste. An interesting fact on the UNEP website, almost thousand rivers account for 80% of the plastic released into the oceans annually with the smaller rivers in heavily urban areas being the highest contributors.



Plastic or paper? The durability of plastic and its resistance to degradation is what makes plastic so popular over paper based options. But precisely due to this durability, it is impossible for plastic to degrade naturally. As a result, plastic can remain in the ocean for hundreds of years.



If it is allowed to remain in the ocean, like it is in these garbage patches, the sun will break the plastic down into smaller particles, which are referred to as marine debris. Because marine life so frequently mistakes these debris for food, they are extremely hazardous to their health. Plastic bags could look like jelly to turtles, and other types of fledgling marine life might think they're food and eat them instead, causing them to starve to death. And marine life can even perish as a result of becoming entangled in abandoned plastic.



When massive amounts of plastic garbage settles over the ocean, it blocks sunlight. This prevents sunlight from reaching marine organisms such as the planktons and the algae in ocean.



Since the planktons are the base of the marine food chain, any decrease in planktons implies less food for all the marine organisms higher up in the food chain. Ultimately this has a detrimental effect on all marine life that lives in the oceans. In the long run, this has the potential to cause prices of seafood to rise, which would be particularly devastating to the livelihood of the coastal people that depend on this food source.



Planktons produce up to 50% of the oxygen on earth. Thus, any impairment to their growth from plastic pollution in the oceans has a direct consequence to the amount of available oxygen for humans to breathe.



References:


Visual Feature | Beat Plastic Pollution. (2022, March 1). https://www.unep.org/interactives/beat-plastic-pollution





McCullough, D. (2019, August 8). Plankton: Small Organisms with a Big Role in the Ocean - Ocean Conservancy. Ocean Conservancy. https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2019/08/09/plankton-small-organism-big-role


Phenomenal Phytoplankton: Scientists Uncover Cellular Process Behind Oxygen Production. (2023, May 31). Scripps Institution of Oceanography. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/phenomenal-phytoplankton-scientists-uncover-cellular-process-behind-oxygen-production


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