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Why is Plastic Pollution a Problem in Our Oceans?

A sea turtle tangled up in various plastics (Machalilla National Park)

A sea turtle spots a plastic bag floating among the waves. To him, it looks like a jellyfish, its general shape and consistency swaying and catching the light in just the right way. He swims toward it and ingests the bag in one gulp, satisfying his hunger, and then goes on his away. In actuality, that plastic bag lines his gut, causing digestive blockages and the sea turtle’s eventual death from starvation.

This story is all too common in the marine environment. In fact, a study estimated that more than half the world’s sea turtles and a staggering 90% of sea birds had ingested some form of plastic. Earlier this year, 13 sperm whales washed up in Germany and their necropsies revealed stomachs full of plastic waste including a 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic car engine cover and a plastic bucket. Plastic and other debris, including discarded fishing lines and nets (also called “ghost nets”), are not just ingested, but also account for thousands of casualties.  Sharks, whales and mantas that get tangled up in nets either suffer life-threatening injuries from their attempts to escape or they simply remain trapped eventually drowning to death.

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Can Reefs Survive Coral Bleaching?

Parrotfish in the Gardens of the Queen (Noel Lopez Fernandez)

Scientists in Australia recently announced that more than 90% of coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef have experienced bleaching this year due to increased oceanic temperatures from climate change. This is the third mass bleaching event on record and possibly the worst yet — affecting one-third of the world’s corals. Other affected areas include Micronesia, as well as the Caribbean and Hawaii, both of which suffered major bleaching throughout their waters last summer.

Coral reefs provide food and shelter for numerous marine species and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people around the world. According to The New York Times, they provide jobs for “an estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women [who] depend on reefs for their livelihoods.”

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