The ocean’s extensive ecosystem covers 71% of our globe. Humans rely on it for food and economy, and countless creatures count on it as their only source of life. When it comes to oceanic pollution, most people focus their concerns on large plastic items and unsustainable fishing practices, but not enough attention is being given to micro plastics. Micro plastics are tiny plastic particles that have a massive impact on living things in the ocean and most people are not even aware that they exist. Marine plastic debris is a hazardous pollutant of international environmental, economic, public, and political concern that poses a threat to marine life, human industry, and food security.
According to micro plastic researchers Tamara Galloway and Ceri Lewis (2016), roughly eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. Micro plastics make their way into the oceans through irresponsible practices such as illegal dumping, littering on the beach or in sewer systems and run off from the roads. Micro plastics exist in every marine region from deep ocean waters to the polar ice caps. From there they begin to wreak havoc.
The health of marine mammals is a large indicator of marine ecosystem health. In a research study conducted by Dr. S.E. Nelms (2019), 50 individual marine mammals were observed from 10 species and the results found that micro plastics were omnipresent in the digestive tract of every animal examined. Nelms concluded that there was a potential relationship between the cause of death in the mammals and micro plastic abundance in their digestive tracts. Research by Tamara Galloway (2016) explained that plastic ingestion leads to negative effects on growth and reproduction, energy allocation, and food consumption in marine species. Exposure to micro plastics is leaving marine creatures vulnerable to diseases through bioaccumulations of toxins. People are suffering from micro plastics in the ocean just as much as the creatures living within it. According to research by C. M. Rochman (2015), this hazardous blend of toxic chemicals and pollutants is working its way into people’s bodies as they move up the food chain.
Research by Doctor J. L. Pauly (1998) discovered that when plastic gets into the cells and tissues of humans it can cause harm. Pauly saw disruption of cellular processes and tissue degradation caused by micro plastics in patients who had been given plastic joints in knee or hip replacements. Through seafood, humans are directly consuming the same micro plastic agents that Pauly saw damage humans biologically.
It is critical that individuals take charge over their own plastic consumption and waste rather than wait for legislation to make improvements. Be a more sustainable and conscious consumer by avoiding the use of plastic when possible, recycling plastic, and avoiding littering. Finally, educating oneself about politicians and their policies and being a conscientious voter can help enact change before it is too late.
It is clear that marine micro plastics are calamitous little pollutants that are ravaging marine life and humans, and there is not enough being done to combat this issue. The toxicity of marine micro plastic debris has already been observed in sea creatures and this debris is making its way into human systems. But hope is not lost. Being informed about micro plastics, what they are, how they impact the planet and the creatures who inhabit it, and taking a part in reducing the pollution of micro plastics is absolutely possible to protecting Earth and the creatures that inhabit it, including human beings.
Galloway, T. S., & Lewis, C. N. (2016). Marine micro plastics spell big problems for future generations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(9), 2331-2333. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/113/9/2331
Nelms, S.E. (2019). Microplastics in marine mammals stranded around the British coast: ubiquitous but transitory? Scientific Reports, (1), 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30705316
Pauly, J. L. et al. Cancer Epidem. Biomarkers Prev. 7, 419–428 (1998).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9610792
Rochman, C. M. (2015). Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption. Scientific Reports, 14340. https://doi-org.concordia.idm.oclc.org/10.1038/srep14340