Plastic Pollution in the Oceans

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way” (McCarthy). Many Americans consume plastic throughout the year and do not recycle all of it. The beaches are getting dirtier and dirtier but there is not much change going on. The wastes on the beaches, streets, and air are going into the ocean and harming the species. Pollution in the oceans is affecting the sea creatures because surfers are exposed to pathogens, sea turtles develop tumors and dolphins are hosts to parasites.

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Surfers were found to be four times more likely than nonsurfers to carry types of E. coli. Antibiotic-resistant E. coli can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms, urinary tract infections and meningitis. “The ocean is filled with disease-causing bacteria that can really harm the many people who swim in the ocean” (Kazanc). The pollution in the air and water are causing 40% of surfers to get asthma. During summer, there are more emergency room visits for breathing problems from high air pollution. Not only are surfers getting asthma, they are also exposed to various pathogens. They are spread through direct contact, indirect contact and droplet transmission (Rinkesh). Direct contact is when infected body fluid enters another person’s body through water from cuts. Indirect contact is when a surfer touches an object that contains infected body fluid. Droplet transmission occurs when a surfer inhales droplets from someone else’s cough or sneeze. Some surfers borrow or rent surfboards from friends or local surf shops. The pathogens will spread quickly and cause infections. Although, there is a way to avoid them. Wearing protective personal equipment like gloves, eyewear, footwear and bodysuits. Drinking seawater will also spread diseases but it is not always easy to avoid doing that. Microorganisms are going into the body as long as salmonella as surfers are swallowing water. Water also goes into the sinuses because surfers fully emerge into the ocean water. After a big rainstorm, the ocean will be even more polluted. Street trash, gutters, people and animal waste, car oil, and cleaning chemicals all get flushed down into the water. Welcome to Mother Nature’s toilet. Timmy Turner is a surfer that went surfing at Huntington Beach after it rained, developed a sinus infection and almost died from the staph infection eating his brain. Surfers have three times the levels of antimicrobial resistance bacteria compared to the general population. Surfers go year-round so there is no way of avoiding a storm runoff. According to Steve Reed, surfing is always a good time to go surfing. Reed has gotten skin cancer (it is gone now) and nothing stops him from surfing. He surfs all year long. Although, surfers should stay out of the water for at least 72 hours after a storm to avoid getting sick.

“More than 50% of sea turtles have consumed plastic” (McCarthy). Sea turtles are also affected by ingesting food contaminated by oil or tarballs. Oil damages their organs and causes irritation to the skin. Sea turtles also develop tumors on their faces, flippers, and organs. Their swimming, vision, and need of escaping predators are ruined. Treating tumors takes a lot of work and it is only temporary. Sea turtles get stranded again within a year. This impacts nests, nesting females, and sea turtles that just hatched. Driving on the beach can be a threat to nesting sea turtles as they can get hit by cars. Night-time human activity prevents sea turtles from emerging onto the sand to lay eggs. “Chronically ill turtles are also more vulnerable to predation and collisions with boats” (McCarthy). Sea turtles can swim as fast as 25 miles per hour but it does not stop them from getting hit by boats. Sick and injured sea turtles float on the water and are not able to swim down to escape the boats. Their ribs and spine are fused to the shell. The boats will break the ribs and spine. The shell becomes cut or cracked which causes the sea turtle to become paralyzed or even to die. Sea turtles that survive boat hits usually spend the rest of their lives in the hospital or they develop bubble butt syndrome in the ocean. Bubble butt syndrome comes along and that’s when the sea turtles are breathing in air. The air in their lungs are forced out into their body cavity. A bubble will form on their butt. Bubble butt syndrome is permanent once developed and causes the sea turtle to float. When a sea turtle is floating, it cannot dive for food. Not to forget, the sea turtle still has cuts so it gets infections and diseases. A disease now killing many sea turtles, Fibropapillomas, is linked to pollution in the oceans and in nearshore waters. This disease gives sea turtles huge tumors the size of grapefruits. It is a herpes virus but not the same one that infects people. Once hatchlings are hatched, they are automatically infected with Fibropapillomas on day one if their mother has the disease. When pollution enters the water, it contaminates and kills food for sea turtles plants in the grown in the ocean. Oil spills, urban runoff from chemicals, fertilizers and petroleum all contribute to water pollution. This also affects nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings. They crawl into oil on contaminated beaches. Oil irritates sensitive mucus membrane around the eyes, mouth, lungs and digestive tract. Sea turtles covered in oil are not likely to survive without medical help from humans. The ocean is so large, many incorrectly assume that pollutants will be diluted to safe levels, that is not true. The toxins released from these pollutants become more concentrated as they break down in size. These smaller particles become food for the sea turtles. The pollution in the same water as sea turtles results in diseases and death. The biggest threats to sea turtles are fishing gear, illegal trade of meat, toothbrushes, plastic bags and other marine debris. Between 1990-2008, about 85,000 sea turtles were stuck to fishing hooks. Now, about 4,000 sea turtles in the United States are killed each year. Sea turtles are swallowing bits of plastic floating in the ocean, mistaking them for jellyfish. Only 14 small pieces increase their risk of death significantly. About more than half of all sea turtles from all seven species have eaten plastic debris. Sea turtles are not made to vomit anything that does not belong down their mouths. However, they have very similar air and food passageways to humans. Humans can throw up materials that cause unwanted items to come out of the mouth and even the nose. In sea turtles, the debris either gets stuck or goes down to their stomachs. The debris will not leave their stomachs.

Toxic debris or chemicals can destroy the biochemistry, behavior, reproduction, and growth of dolphin life. “When toxins impair a dolphin’s immune system, it’s harder for the mammal to fight fungal, bacterial and fungal infections” (McKinney). Industrial dumping, sewage, and marine accidents directly toxicate the dolphins. About 10 percent of dolphins have ingested plastic while it is staying in their system. Dolphins are hosts to parasites. “Exposure to parasites, pathogens, and pollution are the likely reasons why two wild dolphin populations were found to be sicker than two captive groups” (ATP). Dolphins use their blowholes to inhale and exhale. They live in the upper layers of the sea so they are vulnerable to oil pollution and floating oil sticks which are chunks of grease from the street. Blowholes get a buildup of grease. The dolphins do not avoid floating oil sticks which leaves them swimming into them. “In addition to stress, ocean noises linked to loss of habitat and deafness in dolphins” (WDC). Chemical spills, loud noise used to find oil, conducting loud military exercises at sea, and increases in boat traffic can all put dolphins in danger, causing them to stand on coastlines, and even kill them. Sound waves travel farther and faster in the sea’s dark depths than they do in the air. They use noise or sound to find food, navigate, mate, and communicate. Listening for them is just as important as seeing for humans. Plastic doesn’t just look like food, but it also sounds and smells like food. Dolphins do not catch colds but they do get lungworms. Worms live in their sinuses and travel to their brains which causes death. Dolphins use their blowhole to catch air while swimming. They are breathing in bad air pollution.

Mammals are starting to carry more and more diseases that could be passed to humans. Toxic chemicals from industries are raising temperatures in oceans. Skin irritation, eye irritation, lung and liver problems impact sea animal life over long period of time. Land runoffs are creating dead zones, about 200 of them (Rinkesh). Littering is a huge problem. Plastic debris takes between 500-1000 years to decompose. Plastic bags, fishing gear, cigarette butts, and food and beverage containers are the most common forms of plastic pollution found in the oceans. Oil from boats, airplanes, cars, work trucks, and lawnmowers are also swimming in ocean waters. Chemical discharges from factories, raw sewage overflow from water treatment systems, and stormwater and agricultural runoff add other forms of marine poisoning to the toxic mix.

Only one in five plastic bottles are recycled each year. There is even an ocean garbage site off the coast of California twice as large as the state of Texas. California has passed a law to limit straw use in restaurants. “Eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, and straws comprise just 0.025 percent of that” (Rinkesh). Seattle has become the largest area in this country to ban plastic straws. Starbucks plans to completely stop giving out plastic straws with their drinks. Thanks to a Girl Scout, Alaska Airlines will be the first-ever airline to limit plastic straws and stirrers. Straws are cheap to produce and more durable than paper. Companies have thought about producing or selling glass and metal straws. The low melting points limit its use. Shopping bags that are used to carry hot food add up to the health issues. The temperature is like slow poisoning (Gibbens). Reducing plastic in everyday use will help and save a lot of the environment’s life. There are many ways to reduce plastic pollution like bringing reusable shopping bags, stop buying bottled water, skip straws, switch disposable diapers to cloth diapers, or even skipping disposable razors. People are able to drink out of a cup without a straw. There are participants that organize beach cleanups. “The Ocean’s Conservancy annual beach cleanup produces more than 20 million pounds of trash and the 10 most common items are made of plastic” (Rainey 1). Glass beverage bottles are no longer the most common items picked up by volunteers. Plastic has taken over. If everyone picked up at least just one piece of plastic without littering then the beaches would be cleaner.

Others may not agree. Plastic bags were given away free in grocery stores but now shoppers can buy bags. The bags are now thicker and more a dangerous threat to the environment and oceans. Reusable bags are not very sanitary. The bacteria on the bags could spread onto foods, checkout counters, and shopping carts. Plastic bags are convenient and take up less landfill space than paper bags. The lightweight is not just limited to manufacture shopping bags. Currently, even the automobile industry is using plastic to manufacture fuel-efficient, lightweight cars. The solid material is shaped in such a way that the safety is not compromised and it adds up more benefits in return. It can be used to make a mobile phone cover or a raincoat. This property of plastic makes it one of the most important materials that exist on Earth. It is durable, low cost, water-resistant, lesser energy and heavy chemicals requirements in manufacture and are lightweight. Comparing plastic and paper for shopping bags show that plastic bags do not affect the environment as badly as paper bags. Plastic bags require less energy to produce, transport, and recycle. However, these studies also note that recycling rates for plastic are significantly lower than for paper. Plastic carrier bags can be reused as trash bags or bin bags. Also, plastic bags are complimentary in many locations but are charged or ‘taxed’ in others.

The problem with contaminated beaches will soon take effect on everyone. The main causes that pollution creates on the beaches are heavy rainfall, natural disasters, and humans not being careful. The government cannot control the weather, but it can control what goes into the water. Fishers can attach LED lights to their fishing nets to help sea turtles from getting tangled in them. Surfers, sea turtles and dolphins are dying from the nasty water. Changes in human activity need to start happening because no one can control the weather. Many cities around the U.S. have made small changes like reducing plastic bag use in stores and creating beach cleanups. Surfers are exposed to pathogens, sea turtles are developing tumors and dolphins are hosts to parasites.

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Plastic Pollution In The Oceans. (2021, Jun 03). Retrieved from