Plastic pollution in oceans is a huge threat to the marine environment. Recently, a campaign went out that showed a picture of plastic bags and a jellyfish in the ocean, demonstrating just how easy it is for animals such as the turtle to mistake a plastic bag for food.
However, aside from large plastics such a bottles and bags littering the ocean, there is another lesser known pollutant that is just as fatal ….
Micro plastics: What are they?
Micro plastics are manufactured, solid plastic particles of less than 5mm in diameter. Cosmetics such as exfoliating products and toothpaste contain microbeads which are a type of micro plastic. These microbeads are so small they pass through the filtering system, making their way into the ocean. There are also other types of microplastics called micro fibres which are also becoming a threat to marine life. After every wash, hundreds of tiny fibres from synthetic clothing make their way into the ocean.
A study found that 60-85% of human-made material found on shore lines consisted of micro fibres from clothes. Something needs to be done before it’s too late!
What do micro plastics do to the marine environment?
Micro plastics are not biodegradable, meaning they cannot be broken down by bacteria. This means that they remain in the environment for years causing pollution to the ecosystem and creating an environmental hazard for marine life. Animals including fish, oysters and whales mistake these plastic particles for zooplankton (animals which are bottom of the food chain), making them feel full but not giving them the nutrients they need to survive. As a result they starve to death.
In 2004, it was shown that water samples in some areas contained 6 times more plastic particles than plankton. A shocking statistic! These plastics bio-accumulate up the food chain, so even human health is at risk as we could have plastic in our systems through eating fish.
In fact virtually every marine species has a little bit of plastic inside them including 90% of birds. This causes negative behaviours and makes them more vulnerable. Plastics absorb and concentrate pollutants in the water and the chemicals get absorbed into the bloodstream which causes changes in behaviour. Studies have shown that the inhalation or absorption of microplastics has caused stunted growth or death before these animals reach the reproductive age. They also cause genetic disruption and infertility.
Slowed warming of sand sediment due to the contamination of micro plastics has also affected the sexual determination of turtles, meaning more turtles are being born male who cannot reproduce without a female.
What can we do to prevent micro plastics from polluting the ocean?
- Firstly, the most obvious answer would be banning the use of microbeads. Some countries have already implemented the ban of microbeads in cosmetics, and others pledge that they will be banned by the end of 2017.
- Use biodegradable alternatives to microbeads: rice, apricot seeds, bamboo, and walnut shells are just as good and do not harm marine life! So CHECK THE LABEL BEFORE YOU BUY!
- Get a better filtering system – in an ideal world this would be great, but micro plastics are so small it is virtually impossible to filter all of them out!
- Design clothing that doesn’t shed as many fibres. The clothing industry was approached to help design clothing with less harm to the environment but unfortunately they refused to deal with the problem which was an impediment in research and solutions.
- We can combat this by choosing clothing made of organic, natural fibres. This is less environmentally harmful and biodegradable.
- Lastly, by reducing the amount of times clothing is washed, washing at lower temperature, and avoiding powder detergents could reduce the amount of fibres washed up significantly.
Together we can make conscious choices and stop carelessly, polluting the ocean and harming it’s both it’s inhabitants and ourselves.
Let us know what you are doing to help combat plastic pollution in the ocean by commenting below or tweeting us @revival.collect