How many sea animals die from plastic?

Every year, over 100 million marine animals die as a result of plastic pollution. The animals herein belong to some 1000 species. The most affected include sea turtles, seals, seabirds, fish, whales, and dolphins. 

As of now, about 500 spots in the oceans have been declared dead zones – to mean that no sea animal can exist. And as if that is not enough, humans add over 8.3 million tonnes of trash into the ocean every year. 

Here are more shocking statistics on plastic pollution and the ocean ecosystem:

  1. Of the 100 million marines that die annually, about 100,000 of the deaths are due to plastic entanglement.
  2. By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish
  3. Plastic manufacturers produce approximately 300 million tons of plastic every year. This surprisingly equals the total weight of all humans on earth
  4. The world’s ocean waters currently contain approximately 5 trillion plastic pieces. 
  5. The most polluted ocean with plastic particles is the North Pacific Ocean – this hosts the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which carries a whopping 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic

Now, let’s see how these sea animals die from plastic 

Three ways marine animals die from plastics

1. Entanglement

Entanglement can occur in two major ways – the entanglement of animals in plastic, and the entanglement of plastics in animals.

The first refers to sea animals getting caught up in plastic debris. Picture a shark rolling itself around a discarded fishing net that also has trapped plastic bottles and sticks. It takes one simple miscalculation and the shark will never be able to disentangle itself from the trap. Then, it can’t move nor hunt for food. It ends up dying from hunger and sometimes suffocation.

The second entanglement refers to animals that literally eat various plastic pieces. This should not be a surprise as most sea animals cannot really differentiate food from plastic. A good example is the turtles whose main delicacy is jellyfish. A beautifully colored plastic bag perfectly resembles jellyfish. Turtles, therefore, eat plastic bags thinking it is food. As a matter of fact, nearly 100% of sea turtles have plastic waste in their stomachs. 

Seabirds also gobble up plastic debris like bottle caps. Once in the stomach, the plastic pieces may set in a way that makes it impossible to pass them out as stool. The victim is no longer able to eat food because the stomach is filled with garbage. What follows is a painful death.

2. Chemical poisoning

A good portion of ocean plastic exists as tiny pieces. Fish and other marine animals confuse this for food. They eat in large quantities to their fill.

Now, plastic fragments are not as safe as you might think. During the manufacturing process of plastic products, plastics are infused with a large variety of chemical agents to improve their mechanical properties. These agents are usually toxic and some contain heavy metals. The toxins get released slowly once in the stomach of sea animals. Some go as far as denaturing the DNA of these animals. Several health complications eventually lead to the death of these animals.

3. Reduced food supply

Both floating plastics on the surface of ocean waters and plastic soup significantly block sunlight from penetrating the sea water. As you know, sea plants also depend on the sun to flourish. Without adequate exposure to the sun’s rays, millions of sea plants and algae end up dying. Who suffers? The sea animals.

They are forced to migrate or rather starve to death. Indeed, this affects the entire marine ecosystem. For if the small fish disappear, the big fish also have nothing to eat. Seabirds likewise suffer from hunger. The problem escalates up the food chain and humans also get affected.     

Another effect of ocean plastic pollution is that phytoplanktons die in the millions. Plankton is responsible for the oxygenation of the ocean waters through photosynthesis. Without adequate access to sunlight, planktons can no longer carry out photosynthesis and release oxygen. This results in the de-oxygenation of the ocean. That is basically what causes dead-zones in the ocean. No animal can survive without oxygen.

Is there any remedy?

The statistics are really startling. Weep, if you can, for the poor animals. Humans were meant to be their protectors, but they have actually turned out to be their killers. Think really hard whenever you carelessly handle plastic products. For it is man’s daily actions at home, at work, in school, etc, that cause this massive plastic pollution in oceans.

Unfortunately, plastic pollution is a major threat to ocean wildlife. It has been estimated that more than 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris. Turtles are particularly vulnerable, as they mistake floating plastic garbage for food such as jellyfish. Seals and other animals can also become entangled in fishing gear and other plastic debris. In addition, the toxins found in some plastics can be transferred up through the food chain, threatening even species higher on the food chain such as dolphins, whales and humans. The amount of sea life deaths due to plastic pollution is alarming and needs to be addressed to ensure the protection of marine wildlife.  

5 questions about sea animals and plastic pollution:

1. How does plastic pollution impact sea life?

2. What species are most affected by plastic debris in the ocean?

3. What are some of the effects of ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris?

4. How do the toxins found in some plastics affect higher levels of the food chain?

5. What steps can be taken to reduce marine wildlife deaths due to plastic pollution?

The answers to these questions can help us better understand the devastating effects of plastic pollution on sea life and how we can act to protect our oceans. Therefore, it is important that everyone takes a stand and works together to reduce and eliminate plastic pollution in order to preserve our marine wildlife for generations to come.

1. How does plastic pollution impact sea life?

Plastic pollution has devastating effects on sea life. Animals can become entangled in plastic debris, or mistakenly ingest it thinking it is food. The toxins found in some plastics can also be transferred up the food chain and pose a threat to species higher up such as dolphins, whales and humans.

2. What species are most affected by plastic debris in the ocean?

Turtles are most vulnerable to plastic debris, as they mistake floating plastic garbage for food such as jellyfish. Seals and other animals can also become entangled in fishing gear and other plastic debris.

3. What are some of the effects of ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris?

Ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris can lead to starvation, suffocation, injury, infection, and even death. It can also cause long-term damage to the reproductive systems of some species.

4. How do the toxins found in some plastics affect higher levels of the food chain?

The toxins found in some plastics can be transferred up through the food chain, threatening even species higher on the food chain such as dolphins, whales and humans. These toxins can accumulate in an animal’s body over time and cause long-term health problems. Additionally, they can make animals more vulnerable to other diseases or illnesses. By reducing and eliminating plastic pollution, we can protect our marine wildlife from the detrimental effects of these toxins.

5. What steps can be taken to reduce marine wildlife deaths due to plastic pollution?

Several steps can be taken to reduce marine wildlife deaths due to plastic pollution. These include reducing single-use plastics, properly disposing of plastic waste, promoting the use of reusable alternatives, supporting businesses that use more sustainable materials, and supporting legislation that bans or limits certain types of plastic products.

Together, we can make a difference and help protect our oceans and the animals within them.