Seal caught in garbage, Kure Atoll, Pacific. Photo Credit: © Micheal Pitts via Nels Israelson, TEDx (Flickr CC)
Well, if you’ve been reading our blog, then you already know the problem of plastic pollution in our world’s waterways is bad, but a recent study by the University of Western Australia and CSIRO sheds new light on the severity of the situation. Findings of the study show that Australia’s waterways are full of plastic particles. In fact, it reports about 4,000 tiny pieces of plastic per square kilometer. These small plastic pieces come from consumer products such as disposable water bottles, packaging, and frequently used plastic containers.
Although these results may be shocking to some, the waterways in Australia (home to the original Bandalong Litter Trap) are nowhere near the worst in the world. However, with the low levels of recycling and failure to change human behavior, it seems this problem will only get worse.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing everyday. Scientists have confirmed there’s not much we can do to reduce the amount of trash already in the Garbage Patch and suggest the best course of action is to prevent any additional trash from making its way there.
Now, you may be thinking, “Trash in the ocean. That’s bad.” But do you realize how bad it really is? It isn’t just negatively impacting aquatic life or sea navigation. It’s also negatively impacting humans.
We may use plastic containers on a daily basis without being significantly harmed (although recent studies show BPA and other harmful chemicals can leach into our food), but the problem really starts when the plastic pieces enter our food chain. As these plastic containers find their way into our waterway and receive constant UV exposure, the bonds are weakened. This results in the plastic breaking down into tiny balls of plastic that are capable of absorbing a variety of pollutants in our water. These small plastic beads closely resemble zooplankton, the main food source to many different forms of aquatic life. Several studies have reported that plastic particles in our ocean now outnumber zooplankton 6:1 in the Pacific Ocean. And once they are consumed by fish, seabirds, and other sealife, they make their way up the food chain and eventually reach us, the humans. Talk about karma, huh?
Julia Reisser, the leader of the latest study, was quoted in The Guardian:
We know that plastic is ingested by a broad range of organisms. What concerns me most is that these plastics are loaded with pollutants, such as fertilizers, because the plastic acts as a sponge for other things. This can be transferred via small fish to bigger fish and then us. It impacts the whole food chain. There has been research that shows toxins from plastics are causing tumours on the livers of some fish.
As if the quick extinction of species on Midway Island, the several Garbage Patches throughout the world, and polluted rivers throughout America aren’t enough, now there’s concrete evidence to support the negative impact of plastic pollution on human life. So, is this what it’s going to take to make human’s change or will we still sit idly by?