In a new report released by Oceana, the organization revealed that nearly 1,800 animals from 40 different species have swallowed or were entangled in plastic since 2009. Of the 40 different marine mammals and sea turtles impacted, 88 percent of those species are listed as endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
The report surveyed dozens of government agencies, organizations and institutions that collect data on the impact of plastic on marine animals and found that 15 million metric tons of plastic is washed into the ocean every year. And this number will triple by 2040 at the current rate, Oceana, a large organization dedicated to ocean conservation, said.
“This report shows a wide range of single-use plastic jeopardizing marine animals, and it’s not just the items that first come to mind, like bags, balloons and bottle caps,” Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana, said. “These animals are consuming or being entangled in everything from zip ties and dental flossers to those mesh onion bags you see at the grocery store. We can only expect these cases to increase as the industry continues to push single-use plastic into consumers’ hands.”
The report found that of the 1,792 animals that swallowed or became entangled in plastic, “861 were sea turtles (including all six U.S. species) and 931 were marine mammals (from 34 different species).” Oceana’s report further revealed that some species of sea turtles consumed plastic three times more often than average for their species, while other marine mammals, such as the northern fur seal, consumed plastic up to 50 times more often than average for eared seals.
According to the report, the biggest problem was the consumption of plastic, which leads to starvation and death in these animals. The most common plastic ingested by marine mammals and sea turtles include bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting and food wrappers. And the most common plastic entangling these animals were plastic packing straps, bags and balloons with string.
“While there may never be a complete account of the fate of all marine animals impacted by plastic, this report paints a grim picture,” Warner said. “The world is hooked on plastic because the industry continues to find increasingly more ways to force this persistent pollutant into our everyday routines—and it’s choking, strangling and drowning marine life.”
Oceana’s recommendations to help stop plastic pollution include:
- Companies must reduce the production of plastic, especially unnecessary single-use plastic.
- Companies must offer consumers plastic-free choices.
- National, state and local governments must pass policies to reduce the production and use of single-use plastic.
- Companies and governments must move to establish widespread use of reusable and refillable containers and packaging.
- Federal agencies tasked with protecting endangered and threatened species and their habitats, including NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, need to improve, standardize and require reporting of all plastic interaction cases.
- Congress must defend and fully fund implementation of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, laws that are vital to monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of vulnerable marine animal populations.
With the “plethora of problems” marine mammals and sea turtles already face, the danger they face from plastic pollution is one more stress that threatened and endangered species especially can’t afford to suffer from.
The only way to turn off the tap and protect our oceans is for companies to stop producing unnecessary single-use plastic—and that will require national, state and local governments to pass policies ensuring they do,” Christy Leavitt, report author and plastics campaign director at Oceana, said.