A whale shark swimming past a plastic bag. Effects of plastic on marine life

We all know that our trash, specifically plastic, which takes a very long time to biodegrade – the average time it takes for a bottle to completely decompose is 450 years, while some bottles can even take 1000 years! – is harmful to our environment. But, what many of us don’t know is how it affects other species, especially marine life.

There is so much trash, in fact, that there is a whole island of it floating between the West Coast of America and Japan, called the Eastern Garbage Patch. This huge floating island of trash is almost twice the size of the United States and growing – and 90 percent of the Eastern Garbage Patch is comprised of plastic.

But how exactly does all this plastic affect marine life?

The fact that plastic takes so long to biodegrade means that every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists and will for hundreds of years to come. Which means that the large number of plastic in our oceans is steadily growing with little chance of declining anytime soon, unless we do something about it.

This plastic invades sea creatures’ homes, and often results in their deaths.

In many places around the world, especially in the vicinity of the Eastern Garbage Patch, trash is taking up valuable space that marine species need. It is also disrupting the food chain by killing off species that other species need to eat to survive.

Other than dying by getting caught in one of these plastic objects and strangling to death, marine life can also mistake this trash for food. But their digestive systems can’t handle it.

Plastics also bring toxins into the food chain. When they start breaking down they produce toxic products into the environment. These toxins are also released when animals digest the plastic.

What can we do to change this?

Worldwide, it is believed that more than 200 species are known to be affected by this trash, including seals, sharks, whales, dolphins, seabirds, turtles, crabs, and rays.

Shark cage diving, a popular and educational experience, will no longer be a reality if we continue to pollute our environment. But, in a world where there is plastic at every turn, whether in grocery stores or the packaging that goes into fast food or other products. But, there are some ways we can curb our consumption of this dreaded pollutant.

A few ways you can help reduce your plastic usage are:

  1. Bring your own shopping bag

Instead of buying a plastic packet every time you go grocery shopping, try to reuse bags you already have –  preferably ones made from canvas or other materials besides plastic.

  1. Go to plastic-free grocery shops

Cape Town is set to open it’s first plastic-free grocery store in November. Nude Foods will open in Constitution Street and will require customers to bring their own bags and containers for everything in store, from food to washing powder.

  1. Bring your own cup or thermos to coffee shops

Instead of using standard disposable take-away cups that coffee shops give you with your coffee – which, by the way are covered with a plastic layer, making them very environmentally-unfriendly – consider bringing your own re-usable receptacle to coffee shops and restaurants.

  1. Say no to straws

Straws are definitely not a necessary part of life. We are quite capable of going through life without ever requiring a straw to sip our drinks, so why not make the environmentally-friendly decision and ditch them all together?

  1. Check your exfoliators

Most of the plastic that is polluting our environment come from microplastic. And, this microplastic most commonly comes from cosmetic products such as exfoliating face washes and toothpaste. Instead, opt for biodegradable alternatives – so avoid products that list “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” in their ingredients.


Photo credit: http://www.nakaweproject.org/education/marine-pollution-plastics/ 

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