Ocean Plastic Pollution: 11 Facts You Need To Know

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Ah, the ocean.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend this summer on the seaside. I’ve beaten my fear of seas and did snorkel for the first time in my life (YEY FOR ME), I’ve spent hours and hours swimming, creeping on weird-looking fish, and – to be honest, my favorite – sunbathing.

Oh, and building the occasional sandcastle here and there.

Building my state-of-the-art sand engineering pieces, I couldn’t help but wondering:

When I was building sandcastles as a kid…were there as many little pieces of plastic as there are now?

I’m not sure, but I remember using shells as windows to my castles, and not ice cream plastic wraps.

I do remember going to a beach in the north of Spain called something like the beach of the mermaid tears (so whimsical, I know). I was about 8 at the time and, of course, I loved that place. The sand was covered by white and green pieces of some kind of magical glass rocks. Obviously, mermaid tears.

Now I know it wasn’t magical, it was eroded glass.

I wish I was as innocent as back then.

{Aaaand fast-forward to today.}

This summer I found myself piling up lots of tiny colorful pieces of plastic sifted through the sand around my construction site.

microplastics on the beach

After coming back from my holidays, I sat down to do a bit of research about ocean plastics, and ocean pollution in general. What I found out blew my mind.

The impact of global warming and pollution in our oceans is INSANE.

It’s a very uncomfortable truth that we cannot ignore anymore. From rising sea levels to its water warming, to overfishing, and to water acidification, there are many ways in which marine ecosystems are being threatened.

But none is as popular – and easy to fight – as plastic pollution.

Here you have what you came for: some things that everyone should know about the plastic epidemics.

1. There are 150 million tons of plastic floating around our oceans

And each year, other 8 million tons join those already in the ocean.

A picture is worth a thousand words: every half second, this amount of plastic gets into our oceans.

plastic pollution in our oceans
UN Clean Seas Exhibit, New York

Of all this plastic, 269,000 tons are microplastics – more or less 51 trillion pieces, which is 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy.

2. Between 60 and 90 % of ocean litter is plastic-based

  • Two-thirds come from the land – beach litter, urban waste, pollution from rivers, drains, industry waste, landfills.
  • One third “comes from the sea” – mostly fishing gear and trash thrown overboard from ships.

3. Plastic in the ocean can go as deep as 11 km into the ocean

Which means we have managed to pollute one of the most remote places on earth.

via GIPHY

And microplastics have been found in the Arctic snow! That’s wild.

4. Many of the fish we eat have already consumed microplastics

I’m not here to make you reconsider your diet…but 1 out of every 3 fish caught for human consumption has plastic in their guts. Yummy.

Meaning that ocean plastic ends up inside of us.

Meaning that it affects us directly. Isn’t that reason enough to do something about it?

This problem is too recent, so consequences in human health are not known yet. But what is sure is that it can be linked to cancer and endocrine disorders.

5. There are five MASSIVE garbage patches floating around in our oceans.

Probably you know at least one of them: the North Pacific garbage patch.

Researchers calculate it’s twice the size of France.

These are literal plastic continents created by the confluence of water currents that bring trash from all over the planet to one spot.

If we wanted to clean it up, we would need 67 ships working during 1 year to clean up just 1%. THIS IS WILD.

6. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains approx.1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, and weighs around 80,000 tonnes

The man who found it, journalist Charles Moore, said he found objects such as *clears throat*

  • a drum of hazardous chemicals;
  • an inflated volleyball, half-covered in gooseneck barnacles;
  • a plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook;
  • a cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV;
  • numerous plastic, and some glass,
  • fishing floats;
  • a gallon bleach bottle that was so brittle it crumbled in his hands

Pretty normal stuff to find in the middle of the ocean, ya know.

7. Plastic has become a part of the diets of many marine animals

Most animals who live close to the garbage patches cannot tell the difference between real food and plastic. So they eat plastic and then end up starving because they cannot digest the plastic.

Some figures:

9. Most of the ocean plastics found on the coast are single-use plastics

This year’s International Coastal Cleanup arranged by Ocean Conservancy involved 800,000 people from all over the world cleaning up their local beaches. This is what they found:

  • Cigarette butts (2,412,1510)
  • Food wrappers (1,739,743)
  • Plastic bottles (1,569,135)
  • Bottle caps (1,091,107)
  • Plastic bags (757,523)
  • Other plastic bags (746,211)
  • Straws and stirrers (643,562)
  • Plastic takeaway containers (632,874)
  • Plastic lids (624,878)
  • Foam takeaway containers (580,570)

So if you still use any of this, think twice next time!

10. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam

These five countries are responsible for 60% of all ocean plastic pollution.

What do they have in common? They are very fast developing countries that don’t have disposal technologies that are ready to keep up with the growth of their industry and population.

Most of the plastic is carried into the ocean by rivers in these countries, which happen to be in highly populated areas with poor waste management systems.

11. If we don’t change our ways, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight.


Now what?

Don’t let this information get you down. But don’t forget about it either!

We need to know the problems we have before even being able to solve them, right?

There are many ways you can help, just as an individual. But the most important one is: reduce your use of plastic as much as possible.

What do you think?

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