Plastic Pollution and its Impact on Ocean Animals in Puget Sound
The plastic production has rapidly become a great problem in the world due to its scope and increase in the last sixty years; nowadays, it is believed to be a serious challenge for the marine environment. Of course, some great convergence plastic debris areas have been already found; however, there is still a strong need to standardize common methodologies in order to provide the plastics measurement in the seawater research regarding the modern directions of the global cycle and geographical distribution of plastics.
Plastic Pollution In The Ocean
A bright example is the Puget Sound region because the situation with plastic pollution is serious here. Negative outcomes also included the nutrition value loss of the diet, exposure to alien species, transport, and pathogens, as well as the physical damage. Cetaceans and turtles suffer the most from the plastic pollution. Moreover, the plastic contains some chemical additives; consequently, it is a potential source of such compounds in the case of ingestion.
Therefore, the plastic pollution causes a great threat to the animal world in Puget Sound, particularly, turtles and cetaceans.
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Reasons for the Plastic Pollution
- One of the plastic pollution sources is the old trash. The main problem is that the plastic is everywhere, and it can be found even in some unexpected objects. For instance, water bottles, including the milk cartons, are made of plastic, and they can be found everywhere. Some products can include small plastic beads (Law). Each time these elements are thrown away or washed down, the toxic pollutants have more abilities to harm the environment.
- Another reason is the overuse. Plastic is less expensive than other materials; thus, it is the most extensively overused element in the modern world. However, after the disposal, it does not easily decompose; thus, it begins to pollute the water and poison its inhabitants (Law).
- The next cause is the fishing net. Today, extensive fishing is an economic necessity for many parts of the world as a great number of people consume or trade fish for survival. Nonetheless, this industry aggravates the problem of the plastic pollution in the oceans. Nets that are used for specific large-scale trolling campaigns are usually made of plastic. These products spend a lot of time in the water and leak toxins; also, they often get broken or lost and remain where they fell (Law). As a result, it not only harms the animal world but also allows the pollutants to enter the water and poison its inhabitants.
Plastic Pollution in Puget Sound
In the US, around 48 million of plastic is produced each year; it turned out to be the optimal alternative to be utilized in different products in vast amounts because it is a good and inexpensive material that is both durable and lightweight (Sigler). Nonetheless, in the last thirty years, researchers found out that the plastic has some useful characteristics; nevertheless, they create great problems to the environment (Sigler). The main challenge is the difficulty of disposing of the plastic waste because this material is manmade and it cannot simply disappear; instead, it divides into smaller pieces that make the problem even more serious (Sigler). According to Sigler? “More than thirty-five million of the plastic bottles and five hundred billion plastic bags are utilized by the consumers and most of them are transferred in the oceans and near beaches”. Additionally, chemical connections of molecules that create the plastic cause natural degradation.
At the same time, the plastic crisis has turned out to be an extremely serious problem in the Puget Sound region. It involved the presence of plastic bags and caused a great threat to the local wildlife. A lot of marine species can mistake plastic for food; in this case, they can choke or consume toxic chemicals (Krehbiel). For example, in 2010, citizens of West Seattle found the gray whale that died on a beach (Krehbiel). It was stated that the whale’s stomach consisted of a great amount of trash, particularly, twenty plastic bags (Krehbiel). In addition, “After that in the Strait of Juan de Fuca the Port Townsend Marine Science Center discovered around 12.2% of the gulls nesting along the shores were consuming the plastic” (Krehbiel). Half of the plastic was thin film, including plastic bags.
The problem exists not only in the Puget Sound region; according to the UN Environment Program, each square mile of the ocean includes 46,000 floating plastic pieces (Krehbiel). At the same time, around a thousand miles away from the Washington coast, more than one hundred million tons of plastic garbage was found in the area that was known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Krehbiel). This toxic plastic soup was churned by the ocean currents and occupied the area twice as large as the state of Texas (Krehbiel). In the mentioned area, the plastic overweighs plankton by up to six times at specific times (Krehbiel).
Therefore, the plastic pollution affects the ocean animals. In 2011, it was found out that around one in ten small fish collected in the Pacific Ocean middle had some plastic in their bodies. The researchers estimated that worldwide, the fish ate around 24,000 tons of plastic every year (Krehbiel). More than “260 marine species have been found to have plastic in their stomachs or tangled around their bodies that seriously affected their reproduction, movement, feeding and provoked injury or death” (Krehbiel). In one study, it was reported that around thirty percent of the turtle mortality in the eastern Moreton Bay area was caused by the presence of plastic in their stomachs, particularly, the thin plastic, which is used in producing plastic bags, for example (Krehbiel).
The main point is that the plastic does not biodegrade in the ocean with time; instead, it breaks up into smaller pieces that remain hazardous to the ocean ecosystem. It is not as visible as larger pieces of the plastic trash, but the micro-plastics or small plastic bits create a huge problem in the Puget Sound region. On the Orcas Islands, cleanup volunteers collected more than ten thousands of small plastic pieces in one day of the work at the Fishing Bay (Krehbiel). Moreover, researchers stated that six tons of the plastic litter the shoreline of Washington (Krehbiel). The presence of small plastic pieces is not limited to the mentioned beaches since they are floating, thus, are brought by the water to different places. Hence, it was found out that plastic bits were discovered in each sample that they had taken from the Puget Sound region. During the examination of the extent of the micro-plastic pollution of the water, researchers found the plastic in each sample (Krehbiel).
Very small plastic pieces or the microplastics absorb other chemicals in the water, including the PCBs and DDT, which are banned toxicants. As a result, super-concentrated toxic pellets form. Small plastics can be easily ingested by such filter feeders as mussels and clams; consequently, toxic chemicals are accumulated in the food chain (Krehbiel). In other words, any other animals that eat these contaminated shellfish have a risk of ingesting these toxins.
According to the “Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the PCB levels in Chinook salmon from the Puget Sound area are three or five times higher than in other West Coast populations” (Krehbiel). Also, mussels and herrings in the Puget Sound region were reported to have higher PCB levels (Krehbiel). The toxic contamination is one of the main threats to the endangered orca pods that inhabit Puget Sound. The PCB levels in the resident orcas are high enough to make them sick by affecting their immune and reproductive systems. Young orcas are impacted by toxins the most because these chemicals are extremely concentrated in the milk of their mothers (Krehbiel).
Therefore, the plastic accumulation in the environment results from the inappropriate disposal or shipping spills. Since it can be characterized as a durable and lightweight material, the plastic has an ability to move for long distances and affect the terrestrial environment, particularly, shorelines, or float in the open ocean while poisoning the water. When the plastic is staying in the ocean, it affects the marine wildlife (Sigler). The issue of the presence of itinerant plastic in the animals’ stomachs or around their necks is disturbing; however, there are great worries about its role as a medium for invasive species (Sigler). In such a manner, the hard surface of plastic products is currently an alternative material for the invasive species, including the algae, mollusks, and barnacles, to which they attach instead of natural material, and float with these pieces by large distances. With the present plastic influx in the oceans, the accumulation of invasive species can escalate at an ever increasing speed (Sigler).
The entanglement in the plastic nets, as well as monofilament and rope lines, which are lost during the commercial fishing, is considered one of the brightest effects of the plastic pollution. The recent sightings focused on endangered humpback whales that were traveling northwards with the tangled rope mass in the tow (Sigler). The abandoned and lost fishing gear can trap marine species for a long time, as well. The ingestion of plastic items occurs more often than the entanglement. In the sea, plastic bags can be often mistaken for jellyfish (Sigler). Hence, turtles and cetaceans suffer from the plastic pollution most of all.
Effect of the Plastic Pollution on Turtles
Turtles are among the marine animals that experience the impact of the plastic pollution the most. Also, the sea turtles “are prone and can be strongly influenced by the feeding on anthropogenic marine debris, particularly, plastics” (Wabnitz & Nichols). The attention has to be paid to the plastic materials that are floating on the surface of the water because turtles can mistake them for jellyfish and “discard fishing gear in which the sea turtles get entangled or pieces of which they ingest” (Wabnitz & Nichols). The experiments in the laboratory showed that loggerhead and green turtles consume the plastic in the form of small pieces, which are mixed with the food, or single sheets from one to ten centimeters (Mrosovsky, Ryan, & James). Sublethal plastics influence turtles; however, the mortality as the consequence of the interaction with plastic items is more challenging.
In such a manner, turtles are the victims of ingestion. The main point is that the sea turtles suffering from the plastic ingestion are a common problem. Nonetheless, even in such small amounts, the plastics can lead to the death of turtles through the esophagus obstruction or the bowel perforation (Wabnitz & Nichols). The relief of the gastrointestinal obstruction of a turtle, for instance, can lead to their defecating seventy-four outside objects during the month period, including “four types of the latex balloons, five various string types, two from two to four millimeters tar issues, carpet-like material piece, four different hard plastic types, nine various soft plastic types and five different string types” (Wabnitz & Nichols). Therefore, today, it is a great problem for the turtles.
In addition, the fishing line is a serious threat when, during certain stages of the intestinal function, different parts of the digestive tract pull it in different directions. It can lead to the gut gathering right the line length and prevent the digest from moving along the track. The plastic ingestion can cause the turtle’s death through the nutrient dilution, particularly, “plastic pieces displacing food in the gut and reducing the surface available for absorption” (Wabnitz & Nichols). Typical results involve the reduced growth rates, lower progression period in the range from, the most fragile to depleted energy resources, predation, and decreased reproduction and survival chances (Wabnitz & Nichols).In general, Young pelagic sea turtles are exposed to the floating plastics tar from the ocean and terrestrial sources and lost fishing great are drawn by the advection in the same drift lines and as young sea turtles indiscriminately feed on pelagic material, high plastic appearance is common in the digestive tract of the small sea turtles, often leading to their high mortality level. (Wabnitz & Nichols)
Hence, as the plastics can transform in the multiple gut segments, the stomach lavages deprecate ingestion incidences.
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Another problem for turtles is the entanglement. In such a manner, entanglement in the plastic lines, ropes, or fishing nets can become the barrier for the sea turtles to dive and find some food or surface in order to draw a breath. Lines and nets can also severely reduce the mobility of animals (Wabnitz & Nichols). Hence, it was found out that half of all turtles had ingested a great amount of debris and most of them were ropes and plastic bags. These products provoked a severe obstruction or lesions of the animals’ digestive tract and led to the death of some green turtles (Wabnitz & Nichols). Moreover, the data about the death of 408 leatherback turtles “for 123 years was researched in order to find the presence or absence of the plastic in the GI tract and it was found that in 34% of these cases the plastic was increased within the time” (Wabnitz & Nichols,). Hence, the plastic pollution has a great impact on turtles.
Effect of the Plastic Pollution on Cetaceans
Another animal that is seriously affected by the plastic pollution is a cetacean. Most cetaceans live far from the shoreline; thus, the research on marine debris ingestion is limited. When the plastic causes unnatural death, cetaceans sink to the ocean bottom. Due to the echolocation capabilities of these animals, the mistaken consumption of the plastic is rather improbable. It is a common situation when “the whales have a rupture in the third compartment of the stomach provoked by the nylon netting just as the cases when plastic bags, fishing line, and netting completely block the stomach from the intestines” (Vegter). Therefore, cetaceans of all sizes can become entangled and killed by the ghost nets and lines that are attached to the creeks and pots, looting rope, and stashing gear, despite the problem being considered a challenge for large whales only (Butterworth, Clegg, & Bass). Coastal cetacean species are highly vulnerable because these animals are impacted by human activities, which take the form of plastic pollution.
There can be a question about why animals get into the active fishing gear. Due to the cetaceans mass and size, larger whales can break the fixed fishing gear and lines; however, they can then become entangled in thin but strong ropes, lines, or nets, which are selectively turned active by the human controlled fishing gear in the marine debris (Baulch & Perry). The main point is that cetaceans can be entangled in the range of different gear types (Baulch & Perry). In some acute entanglement cases, the death is relatively rapid and can take a period ranging from a few minutes to hours. As a rule, it happens when the asphyxiation prevents the animals from surfacing. If an animal can surface but is still anchored to the gear, it can be unable to move to feed or defend itself from predators; thus, it will die in some days (Baulch & Perry).
The death can be caused by the chronic entanglement that leads to the poor welfare and death that is a result of the impaired foraging and the starvation and systemic infection that develops in the open wounds caused by the entanglement. Also, whales can experience debilitation or hemorrhage due to the severe tissue damage, involving the laceration of large blood vessels and line and rope being embedded in the growing bone” (Baulch & Perry). In one entangled and growing whale, the radius bone in the flipper grew while being notched by the encircling rope (Baulch & Perry). In the case of chronic entanglement, death can take many months or even years.
It is crucial to research and apply some solutions and strategies to solving the problem. In recent times, it became clear that there are no limitations for the bright human mind. Today, new materials are made of renewable natural resources with characteristics similar to their oil-based products, and they need to receive public support (Wabnitz & Nichols). The utilization of these materials has to be integrated in the packaging sector.
Another step is the removal of the existing pieces. In such a manner, the ocean and beach cleanups are the most effective way out that can provide required data and increase the awareness of people of the abundance and debris trends on the beaches (Wabnitz & Nichols). Nonetheless, without the proper support, it is impossible to handle the problem effectively. In some areas, cleaning plastic “from the coast amounts to little more that items relocation from the beach to implants dumpsite where they provide various challenges to the environment and can even find their way back to the ocean in case of the flooding or storm” (Wabnitz & Nichols). The best-organized cleanup attempts strived to connect the trash removal with the appropriate disposal and educational initiatives regarding ways of reducing the production of the single-use disposal plastic (Wabnitz & Nichols).
There is a great scope for the plastics reuse that can be utilized for the goods’ transportation and for the potential remanufacturing and re-use of the plastic items in the electronic equipment and vehicles, for example. Provided with the adequate incentives, the industry can be set to use the plastic as the raw, but not the virgin materials that often mingle nowadays. Despite the fact that from the global perspective, “only a small number of the plastic gets recycled, mechanical recycling has increased at 7% in the Western Europe ” (Wabnitz & Nichols). The public support of the recycling initiative is increasing in the countries worldwide.
However, the everyday packaging streamlining, simplification, and developing a clearer labeling can allow users to sort more trash. In turn, this approach can reduce the labor-related or sort costs; nowadays, it is one of the major impediments to the recycling programs’ effectiveness and maximization of the quantity of the waste that is being recycled (Wabnitz & Nichols). Nonetheless, the most cost-effective way of handling the problem is rejecting the single-use plastic at once and strongly decreasing the use of the disposable plastic and its subsequent release to the environment (Wabnitz & Nichols). For instance, some actions can include the avoidance of plastic-bottled beverages, introducing products with the minimum packaging, buying in bulk packages whenever it is possible in order to reduce the packaging, buying used items, utilizing reusable shopping bags that are similar to those that are made of renewable materials, particularly, natural fibers, and utilizing personal issues, for example, bringing the own mug for the tea or coffee similarly to using food containers (Wabnitz & Nichols).
Hence, personal activities can contribute to social change; still, the official policy action is highly critical for the improvement of the situation in general. For instance, Taiwan, Thailand, Bangladesh, South Africa, China, Rwanda, Eritrea, and Ireland have already either taxed or banned the production and usage of plastic bags (Wabnitz & Nichols). Moreover, in 2009, “Bundanoon, the Southern Australian town, became the first community in the world that passed the law of the PET bottles banning” (Wabnitz & Nichols). Moreover, the bans on plastic bags, polystyrene, and bottled water are implemented by a number of universities, businesses, and communities worldwide, and these initiatives seem to become more popular with each year (Wabnitz & Nichols). From the international perspective, the UN Environment Program is calling for the global ban on plastic bags.
For instance, at least twenty nations and forty-six local governments issued bans on the distribution of specific types of plastic bags. The official state authorities have a great number of reasons for introducing these limitations. Some communities provided bag bans in order to reduce the ocean pollution; this rationale is particularly common in communities, the economies of which depend on the beach activities, whale watching, and other ocean tourism forms. Others decided to provide policies for reducing the litter (Krehbiel). Therefore, policies that ban the plastic bags are rather effective in terms of reducing the plastic bag pollution. For instance, “the year after banning the plastic bags supermarkets and pharmacies in 2007 San Francisco business distributed 127 million fewer plastic bags and cut the bagged waste reaching the city landfill by up to ten percent” (Krehbiel).
In the case of Washington, two cities have joined efforts against the plastic bag pollution, particularly, Bellingham and Edmonds. Edmonds was the first city in Washington State to ban the use of disposable plastic bags. After the increase in worries concerning the influence that these bags have on the environment, the city council issued the ban in 2009 (Krehbiel). The next city to “approve the ban came in 2011 when the Bellingham City Council unanimously approved banning disposable plastic bags and a five cent fee on the paper bags” (Krehbiel). The community rallied together behind the ordinance with thousands of signatures, neighborhood endorsements, and the support of the local major stores (Krehbiel). Hence, these cities became the standards that the rest of the state has to follow.
Another way is gathering plastic with the help of the huge ocean garbage patches. The innovative plastic-eating drone prototype was offered as the possible solution for cleaning the garbage patches of the ocean. While some can believe in the idea of removing plastics by derisory tires, another possibility was introduced. In particular, “The autonomous device was proposed that would toe the trapping net that would siphon the plastic garbage from the ocean waters and sonic transmitters would be used as the deterrent for the marine life getting caught in the net” (Sigler).
The drone is created in such a way that it can move in the ocean for a period of two weeks; however, if it gathers a great amount of litter or in case of the batteries turning low, it has to return back to the ocean base for being emptied from the plastic that is to be recycled and being recharged (Sigler).
Another important solution tool is the Ocean Cleanup Array, and its main goal is to provide the cleaning up of plastics that circulate in the ocean. This tool uses the ocean current for collecting the plastic (Sigler). It was developed due “that neutrally buoyant marine life will float beneath the booms preventing any wildlife entanglement and allowing floating plastics carried by ocean gyre currents to collect along the booms on the water surface” (Sigler). Therefore, nowadays, a great number of alternative tools can help in mitigating the problem; however, still more has to be done.
Overall, plastic pollution is a great problem nowadays. The plastic production and pollution are still growing in most locations worldwide. This growing crisis symptom can be seen inside the ecosystem with the sea turtles and cetaceans being the most affected terrestrial habitats. Bold initiatives, which directly target the plastic pollution source, advocate redesigning the packaging, and emphasize rethinking the very idea of the environment pollution, are highly crucial. In particular, it turned out to be a disaster for the ocean animals. A great number of ocean inhabitants suffer from plastic pollution today. A bright example is the Puget Sound region. The marine animals that suffer the most are turtles and cetaceans.
In most cases, they fall victim to the ingestion and entanglement. Therefore, in order to improve the situation, it is highly crucial to pay attention to reducing the level of the plastic pollution. Nowadays, there are a great number of directions and trends that strive to handle this problem. However, community efforts are not enough, and the government has to participate actively at both the legal and political levels. Hence, with common efforts, there is a chance to improve the situation.