With covering 70.8% of the World’s geographical area but constituting over 90% of the habitable space on the planet, World Oceans have turned out to be Earth’s greatest life support.
It helps to regulate our climate, absorb CO2, complete different cycles of life forms and it is biggest available source for protein for over a billion people to serve.
However, at the rate we are polluting the ocean with around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic released untreated in the oceans every year, the resource is losing its thread of life.
More than 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute.
According to studies been undertaken, supposedly more than half of the world’s marine species may stand close to extinction due to significant inaction and continuous anthropogenic activities by the year 2100.
But there is always disparity when it comes to terms between land and water, for approximately 12% of the land area is protected, compared to roughly 1% of the world ocean and adjacent seas.
This negligence has led to nearly 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally in marine areas.
Various problems encircling the marine habitat includes temperature rise, chemical changes, release of affluents, increased acidification, Eutrophication but a prominent threat to the World oceans has been the Plastics found in its garb.
However it is to note that only about 0.3 million tonnes of plastic is floating above the ocean surface, it is to ask that where goes the rest of plastic waste?
Based on the Insights from physicists, biologists and mathematicians, we can trace the Plastics pathways.
Winds that shape the water currents and waves carry these abandoned Plastics and can dump them to the heart of ocean basins and keep circulating.
Large plastic fibres can be broken into even smaller pieces by the acts of nature ie. turbulence from breaking waves and ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
This produces microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) or nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm).
Plastic microbeads are estimated to be one million times more toxic than the seawater around it and products with microbeads can release 100,000 tiny beads with just one squeeze.
Marine animals and sunken plastics:
Microplastics can be eaten by marine fishes or zooplanktons(microscopic animals that float at the surface).
These smaller entities in the food chain are eaten by larger beings, leading to Biomagnification and Bioaccumulation.
1 out of every 3 fishes caught by Humans contains plastic.
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Without actual known figures, we can roughly estimate over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds to have been killed by ocean plastic every year.
Therefore with no exceptional surprise, 100% of baby sea turtles have plastics in their stomachs.
It is easy for animals to be mistaken by plastic items and particles for food, or becoming entangled in nets.
Animals consuming plastic can starve to death as the plastic fills their stomach preventing them from eating proper food, rupturing their organs or blocking food from traveling to the intestine.
With increased investment and concern over techniques like deep sea mining, the impact of plastic waste on marine life has become a global crisis.
It can even grow on the surface of microplastics too, which is calling “biofouling” and leads them to sink.
The circular ocean currents, at times deep ocean currents decide the pathway and subsequent accumulation of plastic on seabed.
It becomes complicated to understand how does these microparticles descend to the ocean floor whether by biofouling or other forces of water.
But once deposited on the bottoms of water basins, canyons, trenches and channels, plastics are absolutely shielded from UV light, the one that breaks it, thereby slowing the degradation process significantly.
Investigations of the interactions between benthic plastic debris and bottom-dwelling organisms will help shed light on the potential dangers of submerged plastic litter.
A report by CSIRO(Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) in 2020 has counted the number of microplastic particles in different samples to be staggering 14 million tons of microplastic that exist on the whole ocean floor.
According to a research in progress, it has come to light that the larger plastics are carried out to sea much faster than tiny microplastics, making them less likely to settle in parts of the ocean where more marine life can be found ie. around the coastal areas.
Plastics and the air we breathe?
70% of the oxygen we intake, is produced by marine plants and 30% of CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans.
In combination with the chemicals released from producing plastic, we are influencing the toxicity of our air and ecosystem to great extent.
Out of the several known and not-yet-known possibilities where these plastics can reach, the mysteriously missing plastics have become an attractive object of study these days.
Plastic pollution has been the most extensive problem affecting the marine environment and Indeed humans.
It threatens ocean health, food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and also contributes to climate change because plastic is a petroleum product that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere upon incineration.
WWF and IUCN are waging a war against these special wastes. Without wasting time, we can move ahead to fix targets for zero plastic sources. Let’s pledge to liberate our feeble environment and already saturated oceans from this clutching dragon.