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Our Oceans are Drowning in Plastics

By Juliana Knijnik

Once people thought that the world’s oceans were limitless and anything dumped in them would dissolve. However, humans learned that this was not true and what they were doing was harmful. Nowadays, the waters of the world are being increasingly threatened by marine pollution caused by human activity. Human litter is blown by the wind into the sea or finds its way into rivers and then to the sea. Land runoff (when water from rain, floods, snowmelt, etc. flows along the ground) carries chemicals such as fertilisers to oceans (or rivers and then to oceans). Oil spills (caused by things such as ships carrying oil sinking) while more rare are still a big problem. Factories dump their industrial waste into the seas (or into rivers and then into the sea). These things and many others cause marine pollution.

A Mute Swan has built a nest using plastic garbage. Photo by Thue. CC

Marine pollution also has harmful and varying effects. Chemicals can lower the oxygen in the ocean and many are toxic to marine life. Oil spills are hard to clean up, oil takes years to disperse and it’s harmful to oceanic flora and fauna. Trash that ends up in the sea can also cause harm to aquatic animals, anything made of plastic takes thousands of years to decompose if they ever do so. In fact plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems the world’s oceans are facing, and there is currently about 15 – 51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans and approximately 8 million tons enter the ocean each year.

Plastics have a large impact on the marine environment, the lives of many animals living in the ocean are ended by plastic, either they mistake pieces of plastic for prey and eat these pieces or end up tangled in them. And it’s not just big pieces of plastic that causes this, microplastics, small bits of plastic, usually less than 5mm small, are also a problem, as they aren’t visible and are usually eaten by zooplankton or small fish, which are at the bottom of the food chain causing these pieces to travel up the food chain and may even reach humans.

Whale starves to death after eating 40kg of plastic bags in the Philippines

The sad part is the fact that marine pollution is a known fact and still people contribute to it or do nothing to stop it. Even when all the other Australian states have banned plastic bags, NSW still refuses to do so. A bill (introduced by Labour) to ban single-use plastic bags has just recently passed the state’s upper house and will come before the lower house later this month, where the government plans on voting AGAINST the bill. Environment Minister Matt Kean said the government wanted to “look at plastics more broadly” and that they would continue to pursue its own “comprehensive plastics plan”, however he refused to comment on whether this new plan would include a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Infographic by Boomerang Alliance

So many people litter without thinking about the consequences and countries such as China let their factories dump their waste in rivers without consequences.

Of course it’s not all gloom and doom, there are people around the world who try to do their part to help stop marine pollution, even if their actions seem minor.

Molly Steer, a young girl that is currently 11 started a campaign at the age of 9 to get people to stop using plastic straws.

Melati and Isabel Wijisen, two sisters, started their own organization in 2013, (at the age of 12 and 10 respectively), Bye Bye Plastic Bags , dedicated to ending the use of plastic bags. While they started in Bali, their home country, it has now grown into a world wide non-government organization (NGO).

In 2013 and at the age of 18, Boyan Slat, a Dutch inventor and entrepreneur, founded The Ocean Cleanup, an NGO dedicated to creating advanced technology to clean up the plastic in the world’s oceans. It is estimated that in 5 years their passive drifting systems will clean up about half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

These people are just a small amount of people around the world trying to stop marine pollution. While not everyone is capable or willing to start organisations to do so it doesn’t mean you can’t do your own small part. Use less plastic, don’t litter, pick up plastic you see lying around and other small actions can help.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.


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