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The Rising Tide of Marine Plastic Pollution

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: May 18, 2023

The oceans are a vital part of our planet, covering more than 70% of its surface and providing essential services such as regulating climate, producing oxygen, and providing food for millions of people. However, the increasing amount of plastic pollution in the ocean threatens this critical ecosystem. According to a study published in the journal Nature, there are approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, with more than 8 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year. The problem of marine plastic pollution is urgent, and it is up to all of us to take action to address it.

The Scope of the Problem

The amount of plastic in the ocean is staggering, with some estimates suggesting that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight. The effects of this plastic on marine life are devastating, with animals such as sea turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish and ingesting them, leading to death by suffocation or starvation. Microplastics, tiny plastic particles, are also consumed by small fish, which are then eaten by larger fish, ultimately leading to the accumulation of plastic in the food chain. In addition, plastic pollution has negative impacts on human health, as plastic chemicals have been linked to hormonal imbalances, developmental problems, and cancer.

Sources of Marine Plastic Pollution

Marine plastic pollution has become a significant environmental challenge in recent years, with its impact being felt around the world. Three primary sources of marine plastic pollution include single-use plastics, microplastics from consumer products, and ghost fishing gear.

Single-use plastics are designed for one-time use and are discarded immediately, leading to a significant accumulation of plastic waste. These include plastic bags, straws, bottles, and food packaging. It is estimated that approximately 50% of all plastic produced is for single-use purposes, and a significant portion of this ends up in the ocean.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that measure less than 5mm in diameter. These particles come from a range of sources, including personal care products such as toothpaste and face wash, synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon, and microbeads in cleaning products. When these products are washed down the drain, the microplastics enter the waterways and ultimately end up in the ocean.

Ghost fishing gear refers to lost, abandoned, or discarded fishing nets, traps, and lines, which continue to trap and kill marine life long after they have been discarded. Ghost gear is a significant contributor to marine plastic pollution, with an estimated 640,000 tons of it entering the ocean each year. These nets and traps pose a significant threat to marine animals, such as sea turtles, whales, and fish, as they can get entangled in the gear, leading to death.

Solutions to Marine Plastic

The good news is that there are many solutions to the problem of marine plastic pollution. Individual actions such as reducing plastic use, properly disposing of trash, and recycling can make a difference. However, collective efforts from corporations, governments, and NGOs are also necessary to make a significant impact. 

There are opportunities for individuals to get involved, too. For example, by volunteering in marine conservation with GVI

GVI offers a variety of marine conservation programs around the world, including in Fiji, Thailand, and the Seychelles. Volunteers work with local communities and conservation organisations to help protect marine life and ecosystems from the threats of climate change, overfishing, and plastic pollution. In Fiji, for example, GVI volunteers assist in reef restoration and monitoring, ocean cleanups, and educational programs for local communities on the importance of reducing plastic use.

GVI’s programs are designed to have a lasting impact by providing opportunities for volunteers to work alongside local experts in marine conservation. Through these programs, volunteers gain valuable skills and knowledge about marine conservation and sustainability, which they can take back to their communities and continue to make a difference. Additionally, GVI is committed to sustainability, with all of its programs following strict environmental standards and using eco-friendly practices.

In conclusion, marine plastic pollution poses a severe threat to the health of our oceans and the millions of marine species that inhabit them. While there are various sources of plastic pollution, including single-use plastics, microplastics, and ghost fishing gear, it is clear that collective action is necessary to address this environmental challenge. Volunteering in marine conservation projects with organisations like GVI provides individuals with a practical solution to make a positive impact on our oceans. By working alongside local communities and experts, volunteers can gain valuable skills and knowledge about marine conservation and sustainability, which they can then apply in their daily lives. The fight against marine plastic pollution requires a concerted effort from individuals, corporations, and governments worldwide. Still, through collective action and sustainable practices, we can help ensure a healthier future for our oceans and the planet as a whole.

Article by Petrina Darrah

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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