How Plastic Threatens Marine Life

By: Kara Headley

When you think of the Pacific ocean, what comes to mind?  Lovely beaches for vacationing, beautiful coast lines, endless miles of blue water, habitats for millions of sealife.  But under all these beautiful notions exists something much more sinister that threatens the Pacific Ocean as it exists today.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a swirling mass of garbage in the Pacific ocean.  For the most part, it consists of microplastics- little bits of plastic that cannot always be seen without aid like a microscope.  In addition to these microplastics, there are many larger chunks of garbage just floating in these patches.

The Garbage Patch is contained by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre– a circular ocean current.  It is because of these currents that the garbage patch seems to be contained, but these currents are also what can bring trash all the way to it from the coast of California or Japan.  There is no one source of this garbage- the gyre can bring trash from all over the world.

So why should we care?  Well, to begin, no one wants to claim responsibility.  Since the trash comes from all over the world, why should one nation clean it up?  There currently is not much action being taken to rectify this situation.  In addition, since this issue doesn’t seem to directly affect people, it is not exactly high up on any nation’s priority list.  But just because there are no direct consequences of having a mass of plastic in the ocean, does not mean there aren’t consequences.  Marine life is at risk in the gyre- sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish.  Albatrosses feed their young plastic pellets, mistakenly believing them to be fish eggs.  Seals and marine mammals get tangled in fishing nets and drown.  The plastic blocks the sun from reaching plankton and algae, a main food source for many marine animals, messing up the food web.

The moral is that you never know where your plastic will end up, and you never know the consequences of your actions.  So be a good person, try not to use plastic, and never litter.




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