Pollution & Climate Change

Invasion of Microplastics in Marines

Image: Brian Yurasits, Unsplash

Spotting tiny specks of plastics in sea creatures such as Mussels has become a common phenomenon these days all over the world. To validate this phenomenon, a recent study from ‘Ghent university’ in Belgium calculated that the shellfish lovers could be eating up to 11000 plastic fragments each year. Reckoning further the same phenomena, findings from across the world allude how plastics in oceans are invading thousands of sea creatures and ultimately affecting the food supply chains. These plastics that are found in sea creatures are identified to be a combination of degraded plastics and synthetic fibers.

Microplastics effects:

Microplastics are small-sized plastic pieces with less than 5mm long which roughly equals the size of a rice-grain or sometimes even less than that. The small size of plastic allows it to be easily ingested by a large variety of sea creatures. Upon consumption, these tiny plastics cause physical damage to the creature’s organs by leaching hazardous chemicals. To add to that, these plastics can also compromise the immune function, hinder body growth, and damage the reproduction capabilities. Eventually, with the growing consumption of seafood, these microplastics are ending up in human bodies.

Sources of microplastics:

Microplastics can be categorized in two ways.

Primary microplastics:
Among the sources, plastics from synthetic clothes consists of 35% of microplastic pollution. Abrasion of vehicle tires through driving contributing 28% of microplastics. Personal care products such as microbeads in facial scrubs causing 2% of microplastics. These types of plastics alone estimated to represent 15-31% of microplastics in oceans.

Secondary microplastics:
These originate from larger plastic objects degradation such as plastics bottles and bags. These account for 69-81% of microplastics in the ocean.

The geographical reach of microplastics:

Microplastics seemingly invaded and polluted every part of the planet which includes the most remote parts of the Arctic. Recent scientific experiments in the ‘Fram Strait’ in Greenland, an unpopulated zone between Greenland and the Norwegian Arctic Archipelago, have shown significant quantities of tiny plastics and fibers atop the ice sheets. Similarly, more experiments have shown the amount of plastic density increase to ten-fold in certain areas of the Arctic seafloor since the year 2002 levels, and that Arctic’s surface waters are said to contain the highest amount of plastic concentration compared to world’s oceans. However, this evidence suggests only the tip of an iceberg as the concentration of plastic in the sea-beds across the world, and its impact on ocean life is predicted to be much worse. To add to these, reports from the UN suggest that the world’s seas host over 51 trillion microplastics, which is 500 times more than the stars in our galaxy.

Actions to prevent and eliminate the harmful impacts:

Several countries are leading the fight to reduce the plastic menace. Among the countries, countries in the EU appear to be at the forefront after the EU parliament agreed to increase the recycling rate of plastic waste in the EU. Besides, they agree to introduce an EU-wide ban on intentionally added microplastics in products such as cosmetics and detergents that contain microplastics. Other countries from different parts of the world are also taking plausible actions to limit plastic usage. However, these actions appear to be not sufficient to deal with the spectrum of the dangers that microplastic pollution adds to the planet. What appears to more pragmatic and sensible is to create necessary levels of education and awareness among the masses irrespective of their backgrounds to create bottom-up counter efforts. Taking a moment to spread the word around about the dangers of microplastics, and motivating people to avoid plastics usage and single-use plastics, in particular, would go a long way to create a sustained impact to save the seas, species, food sources, and ultimately the planet.

References:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-humans-a-microplastic-invasion-may-be-taking-a-toll/

https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/environment-and-conservation/2019/08/tiny-pieces-plastic-found-arctic-snow

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181116STO19217/microplastics-sources-effects-and-solutions

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