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World Oceans Day 2016 urges action to protect sea life from plastic pollution

World Oceans Day 2016 urges action to protect sea life from plastic pollution

Around 700 marine species are faced with extinction due to the threat plastic poses to them from entanglement, pollution, and ingestion.

World Oceans Day, marked every year on 8 June, aims to remind people of the huge role our oceans play in everyday life. The seas are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe; and also its heart, the lifeblood of communities around the world.

Our oceans regulate the climate, feed millions of people every year and are home to an incredible array of wildlife.

A World Economic Forum report, released January 2016, estimates the oceans currently hold more than 150 million tons of plastics and warns that they will contain more plastics than fish by 2050. You can help reduce our impact on the oceans by refusing plastic bags and water bottles, and choosing cosmetics that are free of microbeads.

Around 700 marine species are faced with extinction due to the threat plastic poses to them from entanglement, pollution, and ingestion. An international study from the University of Queensland discovered that 50 percent of sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs. Additionally, a recent study posited that by 2050, 99 percent of all seabird species will have ingested plastic waste. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and if things go on business as usual, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

Keeping plastic out of the ocean is the main mission of this year’s World Oceans Day. Across the world, hundreds of cleanup events and activities were slated to take place Wednesday to commemorate the United Nations-recognized event.

In his message, the Secretary-General underscored that in order to protect the health of oceans, it is crucial to know their current state, and also understand the impact that human activities and climate change are having on them.

“Urgent action on a global scale is needed to alleviate the world’s oceans from the many pressures they face, and to protect them from future dangers that may tip them beyond the limits of their carrying capacity,” he said.

On a global scale, we produce around 300 million tons of this material every single year – all to create disposable items that will be thrown on minutes after they are used.

Out of those 300 million tons of plastic produced every year, around 8.8 million tons eventually get washed into the ocean. Plastic never fully breaks down but rather tears apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Effectively, plastic is rapidly becoming part of the marine environment and as a result, fish, turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, and a whole myriad of other species are ingesting it.

What you need to know about Plastic Pollution:

  • Plastic is not biodegradable, but it does break into smaller and smaller pieces, making it easier for fish to ingest.
  • The amount of plastic waste will be greater than the number of fish in our oceans by 2050, research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found in January.
  • It takes anywhere from 20 to over 2,000 years for a plastic to break down.
  • Nearly 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into oceans every year – that equates to 13,00-15,000 pieces of plastic per day finding its way into the oceans.
  • Only 8 percent of all plastic worldwide is recycled.
  • Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs an average of $4,000.
  • The production of plastic bottles consumes large amounts of oil – a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change impacts, including ocean acidification.
  • The transportation, storage, refrigeration, and recycling of plastic consumes even more oil, increasing the cost of its production and the damage inflicted to the earth’s atmosphere and oceans.
  • Researchers estimate the amount of plastic in the ocean is set to increase ten-fold by 2020/
  • More than five trillion pieces of plastic weighing over 250,000 tonnes is afloat in the sea, according to a study published in the scientific journal Plos One.

How plastic impacts the World’s Oceans:

  • Approximately 100,000 known deaths occur each year because marine life becomes entangled in plastic items.
  • Plastic ingestion affects nearly two-thirds of the world’s fish population.
  • Nearly 200 ocean acres have already been declared dead zones.
  • Toxic chemicals leach into oceans from plastics as they break down, impacting ocean eco-systems.
  • Plastic microbeads are eaten by Zooplankton, which mistake them for food.
  • Zooplankton eating micro plastics absorb toxins, poisoning the entire food chain.
  • Ocean habitats are disrupted by plastic debris.
  • Ocean currents have deposited large amounts of plastic debris in five locations, known as gyres, which are feeding grounds for marine life.
  • The production of plastic contributes to ocean acidification from greenhouse gas emissions, which poses significant risks to entire eco-systems, including the bleaching and death of coral reefs.
  • Concern is growing for the health impacts to humans who consume fish from the ocean.
  • Damage to marine ecosystems costs an average $13 billion each year.

What can you do?

If we all make an effort to identify where we use plastic and actively look for alternatives, we can drastically cut down on the amount of plastic pollution that finds its way into the oceans.

Every one of us can help reduce impact on the oceans by refusing plastic bags and water bottles, and choosing cosmetics that are free of microbeads.

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