Ocean Plastic Pollution: 11 Facts You Need To Know

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Ah, the ocean. Equally breathtaking and terrifying.

A couple of summers ago, I was on the Mediterranean seaside sunbathing, snorkelling, creeping on weird-looking fish and building sandcastles, as you do.

One day building my state-of-the-art sand château, a thought crossed my mind:

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.

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

Now I know it wasn’t magical, it was eroded glass that had been brought to the coast by the waves.

microplastics on the beach

So after seeing all this plastic waste ruining what should be the view of a perfectly golden Mediterranean beach, I sat down to do a bit of research about ocean pollution in general. What I found out blew my mind.

Ocean pollution affects more than the fish and the coral reefs – it affects us directly and it contributes to making global warming worse.

And probably the most infamous face of ocean pollution is plastic pollution, which also happens to be the kind of pollution against which people like you and I can fight from home.

11 facts you need to know about ocean plastic

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

UN clean seas exhibit plastic pollution
UN Clean Seas Exhibit, New York

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

A picture is worth a thousand words so every half second, this amount of plastic enters our oceans.

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.

And microplastics have even 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 might be linked to endocrine disorders.

5. There are five MASSIVE garbage patches floating 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 into one spot.

If we wanted to clean it up, we would need 67 ships working during 1 year to clean up just 1%. Good news is that there are active projects like The Ocean Cleanup that aim to research and develop technologies to help fix this massive problem.

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;
  • 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 garbage patches cannot tell the difference between real food and plastic. So they eat plastic and then end up starving because they cannot digest it.

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 and highly populated countries that don’t have disposal technologies and waste management systems ready to keep up with the growth of their industry and population.

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? Ans as an individual there’s a lot you can do, but the most important thing is this: try to avoid plastic, and when you can’t avoid it reuse it as much as you can and ultimately dispose of it responsibly. These are a few posts that can help you with that:

facts about ocean plastic pollution

What do you think?