The ocean contains multiple hot spots of microplastics – and they’re destroying the marine ecosystem. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic, smaller than 1 millimeter that are in everyday products such as cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes. There are two types of microplastics; one is directly man-made and the other is a result of plastic breaking down. It is common knowledge that there is no easy way to dispose of plastic, especially since it is made to be durable, and the garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean is proof of that. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, mostly made up of microplastic and debris, stretches from the west coasts of North America to the shores of Japan. Satellite imagery cannot detect the floating garbage, but it is affecting marine life and it is affecting us too (National Geographic).
There are approximately one million species of animals and plants that live in the ocean, and nine million more undiscovered (National Geographic). Yet one thing we already know is that their wellbeing is being affected by microplastics. At the World’s Fair Marina located in Flushing, debris was floating right nearby a family of geese, as seen in the picture above. Fish and other animals that unknowingly consume the microplastic are put at risk, as dangerous chemicals attach themselves to plastics, therefore negatively affecting their ecosystem.
Plastic washes ashore where birds and other animals use it as a nesting area and a source of food. Many baby animals die due to the sharp edges of the plastic puncturing their body while older animals die due to being unable to digest plastic (BBC). Long term effects may include the endangerment or even extinction of several species including fish, birds, and turtles.The issue persists, with the fact that a quarter of all fish contain microplastics (The Independent). Fishing is a large, booming industry with high demand as the percentage of Americans who eat seafood increases every year. Affected fish that are ingested by humans in large quantities put people at risk of infertility, poisoning, and disruptions to the endocrine system, which is responsible for the cells, organs and functions of the body (MedlinePlus.gov).
Just as we destroy the environment, we can also come up with a solution. There have been attempts to alleviate pollution such as the familiar phrase: reduce, reuse, recycle. Additionally, New York City recently tried to introduce a law that would allow stores to charge at least five cents per plastic bag used although that was recently blocked (New York Times). However, there is still more that we can do to help including: limit the use of plastic and shop using reusable bags even if there is no extra charge for plastic. This will decrease plastic consumption. Also, avoid items that have excessive packaging. Supporting organizations dedicated to fighting ocean pollution will be beneficial, and last but not least: not exploiting marine life. The ocean is resilient, but we have to do our part to help it.
Written by Alicia Garcia