More than 9 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. As most types of plastics are not biodegradable, the waste remains in the oceans for years or even decades. With an estimated 1% of the plastic staying afloat on the ocean surface, the bulk is drifting through the water column or sank to the ocean floor.
Since the oceans are already full of plastic, the animals can’t avoid coming into contact with it. Sea turtles, seabirds and dolphins, for example, get entangled in large plastic parts (macroplastic, >0.5cm) or swallow them and then miserably starve with a full stomach, as plastic cannot be digested. Even very small plastic pieces, so-called microplastic (<0.5cm), can kill animals. Health issues inflicted on the animals include inflammation, poisoning, and hormonal disruption due to additives in the plastic.
In 2018 OceanCare carried out a market study on the coast of Italy (Ligurian Sea). 29 samples from six marine animal species were sent to a laboratory to be tested for microplastic. Out of the 29 (digestive tract) samples, 28 were suitable for analysis. The results were worrying: 57% of the samples contained microplastics. These particles, mostly fragments of macroplastic, were found in all six animal species analysed.
These disturbing findings indicate a very high (micro)plastic contamination load in the study area. And recent estimates say that plastic pollution will continue to increase, with uncertain consequences for marine animals and ultimately also for us humans.