How many sea animals die from plastic?

Floating Plastic Debris

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.