By Brianna Aysh
Edited by Linda Ruble
When people think of pollution in the oceans, they probably imagine a few empty soda cans, broken fishing nets, and plastic water bottles scattered around the beach. While these items do plague the beaches and oceans, the effects are more devastating than people may realize.
A substantial amount of people do not know about microplastics. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic (about 5 millimeters or less) that have gotten into the oceans and the Great Lakes in the United States. Plastic fragments are so small, they slip right through the water treatment filters.
In order to prevent microplastics from entering the oceans and lakes, it is important to be educated about where they come from. Products often advertised as beneficial to people, such as toothpaste and face wash, contain microplastics and are a major culprit of microplastic pollution. Additionally, microplastics get into our waters through plastic debris, such as water bottles, breaking down into smaller pieces that do not fully decompose for hundreds of years, if at all.
According to Huffington Post, “Microbeads account for almost 90 percent of the microplastics found in the Great Lakes.” This is concerning since the Great Lakes provide 20% of our world’s supply of fresh water.
Shockingly, plastic takes 450-1000 years to completely degrade! That’s a long time. Some plastics, like polyethylene terephthalate, are not even biodegradable.
How do microplastics negatively affect marine wildlife and humans? The National Aquarium stated, “Microplastics and marine debris in our waters affect everything from the water we drink to the marine animals we eat.” Microplastics are small enough to be mistaken for food by fish and zooplankton. When these small organisms ingest the toxic plastic, they eventually get eaten by small fish who are eaten by bigger fish.
Guess who’s eating that big fish? Humans. According to independent.co.uk, “Scientists fear that chemicals in plastics and also chemicals which attach themselves to plastic in the natural environment could cause poisoning, infertility and genetic disruption in marine life, and potentially in humans if ingested in high quantities.” Our marine pollution has gotten so bad that we are at a potential risk when eating seafood.
Surely, people don’t want to give up delicious seafood, right? Microplastics may sound like something that people can’t change, but it’s simple, everyday tasks that can make a difference like switching from plastic bags to reusable cloth bags, avoiding any product with microbeads, and recycling. Another way to reduce plastic in the ocean is to simply bring a cloth bag along to the beach and pick up any trash. Supporting animal rescues or rescuing animals in danger is also highly recommended. There are so many ways to make a significant difference. To learn about the other ways that people can contribute, go to http://aqua.org/hero. Most importantly, spread the word!
Header photo from NOAA Marine Blog.