A Problem of Plastic Pollution

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A million jellyfish dance in the soundless ocean as a small green sea turtles attempts to sneak up on its prey. With speed and stealth, this turtle snags the food just as a massive swarm of fog surrounds it. With a swallow of the food the turtle feels a clog, this is no jellyfish its plastic. The turtles stop breathing, it squirms and shakes in the water until all that's left is a lifeless lump of scaly green skin stuck in a protecting shell. The turtles now gone reaches land just in time to be attacked by a bird, out of the turtle's neck spills a plastic bag logged in its throat. But it is not alone. Between the layers of plastic lies thousands of turned over green sea turtles shells.

The never-ending surge of plastic into the world's oceans is taking an increasing toll on iconic marine species. The Galapagos green turtles favorite food is jellyfish, so wherever jellyfish are most abundant, turtles are bound to be close by (Andrews). Unfortunately, plastic bags look like jellyfish when floating in the ocean, and if a turtle ingests a plastic bag, it forms a fatal blockage in the gut, usually resulting in death (Hardin). The plastic debris ingested by turtles can cause an intestinal blockage resulting in malnutrition, reduced growth rates, and even death. Perhaps most distressingly, turtles can starve to death because they feel full after swallowing plastic debris (Jaquet). The influx in plastic in the ocean leads to many animals such as the sea turtles suffering grand population losses due to microplastics, plastic toxicity, and plastic consumption, however, if current new technological advances, reduction of plastic, and overall human discretion in plastic occurs, the current population of sea turtles will once again rise.

In the past, the United States used the ocean as personal waste disposal. In October of 1982, Peter G Ryan stated, Congress enacted the Marine protection, research and sanctions act. This is also known as the ocean dumping act. This policy declares that the U.S needs to regulate the dumping of all plastic-like materials which can affect sea turtles. But this act only controlled ocean dumping it failed to address the plastic already in the ocean. It wasn't until 1988 that Congress decided to enact the ocean dumping ban, this banned ocean dumping of all waste, especially plastic (Ryan). However, even with this act plastic still found its way to the ocean.

Researches at the University of Miami set out to find where all the plastic headed and how it got there. First, they modeled a data on the currents of winds to stimulate the movement of marine debris. The result of the experiment was compared with data from satellites, and the trash was tracked by surface buoys from the NOAA (Global Drifters Program’s database)(Slat). They traced all the marine debris to a gyre in the Pacific Ocean. An Ocean Gyres is known as a system of ocean current, flowing in a circular motion, that is formed by global wind patterns and forces created by earth rotation which was observed by the researcher, Laura Parker. However, when one of these gyres circles stationary waters it acts as almost a whirlpool by dragging in plastic debris and leaving it to drift is its movement less center. Once the plastic reaches the center of the gyre, it's trapped and broken down into plastic soup (Parker). That plastic then sits in the center of the gyre for years.

Even if plastic was recycled, it never goes away, not for billions of years at least. Plastics take their time slowly degrading throughout billions of years stated Bob Talbot. Eventually, they become microplastics, that are invisible to the eye yet one by one they slowly pollute the ocean, gradually becoming bigger in mass, so big that it created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After many years of ongoing ocean dumping most areas of the ocean were now filled with the heavy toxins carried by plastics and high concentrations of pollutants from trash such as; inorganic nutrients and chlorinated patron chemicals. This uncontrolled ocean dumping caused severe depletion of oxygen levels in many ocean areas (Talbot). Leaving oceans full of trash and chemicals poisoning everything that touched it.

Since plastic never biodegrades it become microplastics many turtles consume plastic almost every day they feed. Just a turtle simply opening its mouth near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch it is guaranteed to inhale at least a ¼ a cup of plastic (Brander). As of now, around 10,000+ sea turtles die every year from eating and ingesting plastic (Tyree). But it's not just the consumption of plastic that causes many turtles to die, it's the combination of plastic and the chemicals it releases (BPA). As this plastic finds its way to the ocean, however, it happens to pick up twice the BPA it had before while just floating in the ocean (Halden). This plastic, as it “degrades”, then releases all of its chemicals and toxins into the ocean creating a death trap for turtles.

But it's not just some sea turtles that are affected by this plastic. Countless marine animals feed their babies pieces of plastic without knowing (Samokhvalova). Due to this, an estimated 700 species will go extinct in 5-6 years. As of now, 267 marine animal species are being affected by plastics. With sea turtles out of their total population, around 84% of them have been affected in some sort of way by plastic. However, out of all marine species in the world a whopping 43% are affected by plastic and the toxins it releases (Kosuth). All marine animals are affected by the plastic but it is the sea turtles that withhold the highest death rate due to plastic.
The deaths of many sea turtles today are almost always plastic related. It is reported that sea turtles die from starvation, suffocation, infection, and entanglement, all of which are a direct cause of plastic. At this point in time, one in every three sea turtles has been found caught up in some sort of plastic situation. However, this is not shocking due to the fact that an estimated 1 million pieces of plastic are in every square mile in the ocean. Researchers stated that at this time it is safe to assume that at least 98% of turtles in the world have some plastic inside of them (Tyree). With almost the entire population of sea turtles withholding some sort of plastic in their system they may not have long to live.

Sea turtles have also been found to have swallowed hundreds of bits of plastic. Just 14 pieces significantly increase their risk of death, according to a study. Young sea turtles are most vulnerable, the study found, because they drift with currents where the floating plastic also accumulates and because they are less choosy than adults turtles about what to eat. Even a single piece of plastic can occasionally cause death for a young turtle who consumes plastic.

In one case a turtle was found with its digestive tract blocked by a soft piece of plastic; in another, its intestine was destroyed by a sharp piece of plastic. The study found that half of the juvenile turtles would be expected to die if they ingested a total of 17 plastic items. In some, a variety of plastic material was found inside their digestive tracts. As many as 329 pieces were found in just one sea turtle. Because of a turtles anatomy, they can't vomit up something once they’ve swallowed it, Dr. Hardesty said, meaning it either passes through their gut or gets stuck. For a juvenile of typical size, half the animals would be expected to die if they ingested 17 plastic items, the study concluded. (Taylor-Smith).

Since humans committed to the ocean dumping prevention ACT, dumping should be reduced, but this is not the case. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 14 billion pounds of garbage is being dumped into the ocean every year, more than 1.5 million pounds per hour. According to the Academy, the United States could be the source of approximately one-third of this ocean plastic pollution. The United States is one of the top consumers of plastic in the area and the biggest contributor to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Due to the plastic, all animals in the Pacific area are in danger especially the sea turtles.

Sea turtles have diseases and unsustainable livelihoods heading their way. Imagine if you could see a turtle choking on plastics you produced and baby turtles dragging abandoned nets for months to years before dying. Plastic in the ocean is jeopardizing the natural ways of the marine life by disrupting entire bio-geo cycle causing unwanted problems. This threatens the existence of all life underwater from smaller fish to even whales. Reports say that around one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed every single day due to plastic ingestion. Several marine species are on the verge of extinction because of such type of ocean pollution.

Sea turtles are different though, they consume plastic garbage as food, leading to blockage in the gut and ulceration, and eventually to death. These sea turtles are also the most common victims of ‘Ghost Nets’ in the ocean. Which are stray plastic nets used for fishing and plastic crates also cause oceanic ruination, chokes turtles by getting tangled in precious reefs, causing them to break apart the process of being tangled in them is referred to as ‘Ghost Fishing. Essentially the turtles will get caught and won't have a food source. Also, the turtles may get choked. These nets if lost in the water, however, always make an appearance at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

As mentioned earlier BPA is a hazardous material, found commonly in many plastics, and it pollutes the water badly. Bisphenol A doesn’t get diluted in water, it uses oxygen as it degrades, resulting in a low level of oxygen in the waters as oxygen levels go down. It also badly affects the survival of marine animals including whales, dolphins, and turtles. Plastic waste can either float for miles on the water or they could be submerged on the sea-bed or commonly be found on the sea-shore. But due to BPA not matter how much plastic every single piece is filled with massives amounts of BPA.

Before the days of plastic, when fishermen dumped their trash overboard or lost a net, it consisted of natural materials (metal, cloth or paper that would sink to the bottom or biodegrade quickly). Plastic, however, remains floating on the surface, the same place where many genuine food sources lie and can remain in that same spot for up to 400 years unless currents pick it up. Plastic is durable and strong aka the qualities that make it so dangerous if it reaches the ocean. If plastic objects make it into the main sewer system (by being flushed down the toilet, or carried by the rain into a street drain), and the water treatment plants are overwhelmed by excessive rain, then those floating objects can float right out to sea. When heavy rains arrive in mid-summer, they swept the streets clean and overloaded combined sewers after floating out to sea, debris was blown back onto the shores.

Plastic soda rings, "baggies," styrofoam particles and plastic pellets are often mistaken by sea turtles as authentic. Despite only 0.05% of plastic pieces from surface waters are pellets, they comprise about 70% of the plastic eaten by Sea turtles. But plastic soda rings aren't even one of the top pieces of trash in the patch. It includes cigarette butts, Paper pieces, plastic pieces, styrofoam, glass pieces, plastic food bags, plastic caps and lids, metal beverage cans, plastic straws, glass beverage bottles.

The mountains of plastic forming and the drastic amount of marine animals dying from plastic is horrendous. One way we might get rid of plastic forever is through some new technological systems, like The Ocean Saviour. This vessel will be a world’s first, self-powering 70m tri-deck clean-up vessel, purposefully engineered to locate, retrieve and recycle plastic from the ocean to preserve one of our most valuable assets, the ocean, for future generations. Central to the built of the vessel is the Manta Collector Array collection systems at the side and front of the vessel which will deploy and draw in plastics. The plastics will then be fed into an onboard conveyor, chopped finely, milled and processed through onboard plasma gasification (converting organic energy into synthetic energy) process which will destroy the plastic completely with minimal atmospheric pollution. The product of this pioneering process will then be used to fuel the vessel, making it self-powering. This vessel proves that maybe the soups of plastic can be dispossessed of thought technology.

The Ocean Saviour project has requested a large-scale catamaran as the most economical and stable option on the water. The open plan lower deck will be one of the main working areas of the vessel and has been specially designed to allow ventilation with hinged storm shutters which offer protection against the weather. This entire deck is dedicated to plastic removal and industrial scale recycling. Mid-deck is home to two 12m containers which will offer research laboratory facilities or VIP accommodation options and bulk storage area, for crew quarters. The wheelhouse is located on the third deck which will also house the main crew areas and helipad. However, though this is the number way to possibly remove plastic it has one downfall. A high Price. It cost 50 million dollars to make this vessel, but it may be worth it due to the estimated promise that in 40 years the entire ocean will be free of plastic, plus if we had one or maybe two more of this vessel the years would be lessened. With a plan like this plastic will be destroyed.

But the ocean savior project is not alone, there are many options such as the seabin that may be slightly less effective but million of time less expensive than the Ocean Savior. The Seabin V5 is a floating garbage bin, which acts as a trash skimmer and debris interceptor. By pumping water into the device, the Seabin V5 can intercept floating debris, macro and microplastics, and microfibers. It acts as a trash skimmer, the Seabin V5 is also able to clean the water from contaminated organic material (leaves, seaweed, etc…). The Seabin V5 is equipped with oil absorbent pads able to absorb petroleum-based surface oils and detergent predominant in most marinas around the world. However, the Seabins is not the solution to plastic pollution.

The real solution lies in Education, Science, and Systemic Change. From packaging producers, environmental regulators and to the final consumers; everybody along this chain can play a role and has the possibility, the potential, and the responsibility to be part of the solution. Seabins are installed in the water to collect and reduce the amount of mismanaged debris that from the land enter into the ocean. Seabin Project Science and Research programs take advantage of the global network of Seabins that are currently present around the world. They contribute to the understanding of the issue of marine pollution by generating a global database that will inform the public, governments, and communities about the status of their coastlines and water bodies. Seabin will also take every opportunity possible to develop new ways in which we can remove more plastics from our oceans and achieve ocean conservation and sustainability. Through this product, they aim to not only clean and spread awareness.

Though new technologies open a world of new opportunities to clean the ocean, we will never be able to achieve a clean ocean unless we regulate or even get rid of plastic. AT this very moment thousands of humans choose to limit their plastic use during the day. By limiting we limit the amount of plastic that gets in the ocean. Today California has become the first state to implement a partial ban on plastic straws. Dine-in restaurants will no longer be allowed to automatically provide customers with straws. Customers who need plastic straws will have to request them. Restaurants that violate the ban will receive warnings first, and repeat offenders will be fined at a maximum of $300. The new ban comes on the heels of previous plastic straw bans from companies and cities. This ban is mostly due to the massive amounts of dead greens sea turtles ending up on beaches in California. They are found with stomachs full of plastic and plastic straws up their nostrils. To achieve this human need to contribute to and limit their overall use of plastic.

Earlier this year, the Walt Disney Company announced a ban on single-use plastic straws and stirrers at nearly all its theme parks and resorts. The policy, which is set to be in place by mid-2019, will cut down on the upwards of 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers that are used at these locations each year. Paper straws will be available upon request and, for guests with disabilities, the company is developing alternative options for traditional plastic straws. Disney will also eliminate polystyrene cups at its parks and cut down its reliance on single-use plastic bags. Instead of disposable bags, guests will have the option to buy reusable shopping bags. The company will reduce the amount of plastic in guest rooms by 80 percent.

However, in Orlando at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, plastic straws and cup lids have been banned since the park opened in 1998. Nearly sixty years ahead of his time Walt Disney banned plastic from the Animal Kingdom park to benefit animals and make sure they are never put in danger. Since Disney has vowed to ban plastic in early 2019 it has set off a chain reaction. Seattle banned plastic straws, and San Francisco is working to ban straws and other plastic items starting July 1, 2019. Not only that but many everyday people have been getting involved by protesting plastic or refusing to use plastic straws. All the people needed to be something to believe in and they start to react and begin to change the ways, in this case, in which they use plastic.

Some steps regular people have taken to help partake in riding plastic is no plastic November. This moment not only caught the attention of governments and cities but it caught the attention of restaurants. By eliminating their use of plastic for a mouth restaurant thought why only a month why not have it year round. A number of restaurants around the U.S have taken action and eliminated plastic straw use. Metal straws and paper straws now rise to the occasion to fill the place of straws. Though many complain about the use of metal straws and paper straws it's a small thing to sacrifice for a project bigger than most. The Goal of No Plastic November was not to rid plastic forever. It was merely to set off a chain reaction and show companies and the world that the people care and they want to help.

Plastics have become a vital asset for humanity. Not a single person can live without it because it is included in our shoes to our toothbrushes to glasses. The worst part is that most humans don't even acknowledge the amount of plastic they use each day because it is so ingrained in everything we do. Though these extensive research new technologies seem to be the best way to go, seeing as though two vessels will minimize worldwide plastic to 20 years from now. However, as we clean the ocean we must clean the land. We must minimize the amount of plastic we use each day in hopes that by doing this we can save hundreds of species from nearing extinction. Animals such as the sea turtles are in desperate need of help. If humans take action and work to reduce or even eliminate plastic not only will we be eliminating the actual plastic install but we will e eliminating the toxicity it releases into the ocean. Then maybe, just maybe, you might catch a glimpse of a green sea turtle catching and eating a real jellyfish, instead of a plastic bag.

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A Problem Of Plastic Pollution. (2019, Apr 15). Retrieved July 13, 2024 , from

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