How Does Ocean Plastic Affect Marine Wildlife?

Marine Turtle Plastic - TONTOTON

We already know that plastic is destructive to sea life. A simple Google search surrounding ocean plastic reveals countless photos of sea birds tangled in fishing wire, plastic debris found in the stomachs of dead fish, seals drowned in fishing nets, and other horrific images.

Orphan plastic is clearly devastating to marine wildlife, but is it really as bad as it seems?

Unfortunately, it might be worse than you think. Here are some major ways plastic pollution is killing our oceans.

Ghost nets facts - TONTOTON

Just like everything, fishing nets degrade over time. Eventually, the integrity of the net breaks down, and the net will snap and float away. This poses a great risk for sea life.

Floating nets are nearly impossible to see. This causes swimming animals to easily entangle themselves in the floating nets, constricting their movement and cutting into their skin. For most sea creatures, this spells certain death. Constricted movement means that prey can no longer escape their predators, and oxygen-breathing aquatic animals—like seals, whales, and penguins—often drown when they can’t reach the surface. 

Entanglement can also cause life-threatening injuries. Even if the animal is able to escape the netting, it can cause deep cuts that attract predators, become infected, or cause permanent damage.

Plastic ingestion

Plastic Ingestion Turtle - TONTOTON
Plastic ingestion is another major issue when it comes to ocean plastics. Although it’s not entirely clear why marine animals ingest so much plastic, a study by Current Biology posed the theory that algae and other microorganisms that coat the plastic make it look like food to creatures like sea turtles. Additionally, as the plastic breaks apart into smaller pieces, it can be much easier for creatures to accidentally swallow these pieces. Plastic ingestion causes issues like suffocation and starvation. Even a single wrapper can be enough to cause irreparable damage to animals’ delicate digestive systems. When an animal’s stomach fills with plastic, it can also make the animal feel full, so they won’t eat enough proper food to survive. Studies show that nearly half of all sea turtles have ingested plastic, and up to one million seabirds are killed by plastic per year. Plastic waste poses a huge threat to hundreds of marine animals, endangering entire species.

Plastic threatens coral reefs and other habitats

The world’s reefs are made up of hundreds of species of coral life and other creatures that create essential habitats and other symbiotic roles. Unfortunately, plastic waste is killing off essential coral life, threatening the species and destroying the reefs that thousands of marine creatures call home.

It’s been shown that corals which have come into contact with plastic are 20 times more likely to get sick. Plastic waste blocks light and oxygen that corals need to survive, making them susceptible to disease and other issues.

Beyond this, corals can actually eat plastic just like other marine species do. This increases disease and other issues ravaging the world’s reefs.

Plastic waste is causing reefs to diminish and migrate, which is destroying massive habitats that thousands of creatures depend upon. If we are unable to stop the destruction, it could mean a mass extinction of thousands of different species.

How to reduce ocean plastic

The best way to reduce ocean plastic is to reduce plastic use altogether.

Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from reducing plastic use to a point that it won’t affect our marine life. For, now we can responsibly manage our plastic waste through plastic credits.

By investing in plastic credits that support initiatives geared towards eliminating plastic waste from the environment, companies contribute to reduce plastic pollution by collecting non-recyclable plastic alongside recycled plastic used in their products. Leave nothing and no one behind. It’s a way for companies to empower impact and to choose responsibility. Plastic credits purchased through TONTOTON go toward projects that minimize ocean-bound plastics in Vietnam, support waste pickers, and minimize orphan plastic that could end up in our oceans.

A massive, worldwide movement needs to take place in order to minimize the destruction caused to marine life. For now, do your part by offsetting your plastic footprint and funding projects that will help keep plastics out of our oceans.