Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans

The world we live in is surrounded by plastic from discarded grocery bags, water bottles, food containers and straws to name a few. In fact the list of consumer products made from plastic is endless. Plastic is a convenient commodity but this convenience comes at a steep price. Every year thousands of tons of plastic end up in the world’s ocean, in fact the World Economic Forum predicts that plastic in the world’s ocean will outweigh fish by the year 2050. Experts also estimate that by the year 2050 global plastic production will increase threefold to 1,124 million tons.

The majority of the pollution found in the world’s oceans begins on land and is then carried by either wind or rain into the sea. Once it enters the water it begins to accumulate as waste. In fact according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.” Plastic waste products are transported over long distances and become concentrated in systems of rotating ocean currents known as gyres.

The North Pacific Gyre is twice the size of the state of Texas and consists of small plastic particles that sit just below the surface of the water where fish and other sea life often mistake the plastic particles for food. The North Pacific Gyre is one of five such gyres which cover a total of 40% of the ocean.
– It has been estimated that 100,000 marine mammals die annually because they ingest plastic that is mistaken for food.
– Small pieces of plastic sink to the bottom of the ocean where they have the capacity to smother small sea creatures that are important to the growth and wellness of the ecosystem.
– As plastics begin to break down they release many chemicals that are not found in nature including bisphenol-A (BPA) along with other chemicals which are harmful to marine mammals.
– When fish mistake plastic for food they ingest the plastic particles along with any toxins they contain and pass these contaminants up through the food chain where they have the potential to appear on our dinner plates

Build-up of plastics in the ocean includes:
• Global Influence: The North Pacific Gyre is located between Japan and Hawaii but the plastic comes from Canada, Asia and the United States.
• Landfills: It has been estimated that 80% of the plastic in the North Pacific Gyre comes from landfills; the other 20% comes from ships at sea.
• Litter: When you throw a plastic bottle out, it can end up in the storm water drain and be washed out to sea.
• Beaches: Any trash that is thrown into trash containers along the beach or on the ground can blow into the ocean and be carried out to the North Pacific Gyre.
• Industry: It is not unknown for industrial corporations to dump trash including plastic into the ocean. Fishing trawlers, oil platforms and shipping containers also deposit trash into the sea.

What can we do to prevent plastic from floating out into the ocean?
There are many things that each and every one of us can do to prevent further destruction from plastics and other debris that ends up in the oceans delicate ecosystems including:
• Collect trash and dispose of it correctly
• Recycle & reuse as much as possible
• When using recycling bins, make sure they are secure so that the trash does not blow away and enter the storm drain system.
• Reduce the amount of plastic that you use in your household
• Volunteer and participate in your local beach or park cleanup projects to help collect and properly dispose of trash

Partner with Texas Heritage Protection in keeping trash out of our waters. Contact us to learn about some of the upcoming Texas Beach clean ups. The next one is a wintertime beach cleanup on the RGV coast at the GLO South Padre Island Winter Beach Cleanup event set for Feb. 12th. We hope to see you there!