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Waste Patch / Plastic Waste on the Ocean

Plastic Waste (Waste Patch)
Plastic has become almost indispensable in our daily life. However, when it is improperly disposed of and ends up in the oceans, plastic debris poses a serious threat to various marine species. Plastics decompose very slowly and this process can take a few hundreds to a few thousands of years. Six million tons of plastic waste per annum finds its way via rivers to the oceans. The heat of the sun and the salty water degrade the plastic into tiny particles which subsequently attract toxic substances. The concentration of pollutants, such as DDT or PCBs, in such plastic particles is up to one million times higher than in the surrounding water.

For many marine species, drifting shopping bags and other plastic items resemble their natural food. This is why marine animals, in particular sea turtles and sea birds, frequently ingest plastic debris. This indigestible "food" blocks the intestinal tract and leads to death through malnutrition and starvation. The animals thus die an agonizing death. The toxic waste poisons marine animals, congests their stomachs and/or sets deadly snares around their bodies. Every year, approximately one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and an innumerable number of sea turtles and fish are harmed or killed by the toxic and entangling plastic debris.
Ocean waste damages and suffocates marine habitats. This is often the case with sensitive coral reefs as they are already weakened by global warming.

On average there are 18'500 pieces of plastic per square kilometer of ocean. In some places, the amount of plastic is six times the amount of plankton which is the first essential link to life in the oceans because it is at the beginning of the food chain.

Ingested plastic debris may also poison marine animals as harmful substances contained in plastic may leach out and be absorbed by the animal's body. Moreover, harmful chemicals in the environment may attach themselves to plastic debris. Therefore, the ingestion of very tiny plastic particles - either plastic pellets or broken up fragments of larger plastic items - can also be a source of hazardous substances accumulating in the marine food chain. Eventually, these chemicals wind up on our plates too. The overall effect on humans of consumption of fish that ingested plastics is currently unknown but it is obvious that it can only have a detrimental effect on human health.

Today, plastic debris is one of the biggest sources of global marine pollution. And it is not only found in areas where people live. Far out at sea, marine debris is gathered by ocean currents and bundles up as giant waste patches. In the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, a colossal waste patch has formed which is the size of Western Europe. The patch weighs an estimated three million tons, exceeding the regional plankton volume by a factor of six. The South Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Oceans also contain conglomerations of plastic waste trapped in a never-ending plastic carousel.

Only 20 percent of the 580 tons of plastic that end up in the oceans worldwide every hour originates from ships. It is a fact that an increasing number of old fishing nets, so-called "ghost nets", are dumped in the marine environment where they become deadly traps for whales. However, an alarming 80 percent of marine plastic pollution is land-based and even sometimes originates from locations far from the coastline as wind, floodwaters and rivers carry discarded waste to the sea.

(Source: OceanCare / OceanEye)


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