Plastic pollution is a big environmental concern across the world and the scale of threat has been on an upward trajectory. Now, researchers are saying the levels in oceans are set to rise further in decades to come regardless of any possible preventive action.
Several million tons of waste generated by humans – perhaps, most notably, plastics – find their way to the ocean every year. Oceans are usually downstream from human habitations and so readily receive the bulk of trash generated.
Experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany analyze thousands of research papers in this study. They observed a worrying plastic pollution surge in the ocean and this, they said, will carry on in years to come even if remedial action is taken now.
“We find it in the deepest ocean trenches, at the sea surface, and in Arctic sea ice,” said study co-author Melanie Bergmann.
The review comes ahead of an environmental meeting of the United Nations scheduled for the end of February in Nairobi. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), for which the analysis was done, is campaigning for nations across the world to do more to stem the worrisome trend.
Nearly all ocean species affected
Researchers looked at about 2,600 research papers relating to plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. What they found was that nearly all marine species are impacted by this environmental threat. The pollution also adversely affects coral reefs, mangroves, and other key ecosystems.
According to the team, it is practically hopeless trying to get plastic materials that have infiltrated oceans out. Plastics are not always degradable, so they can linger around for a long time.
They break down into smaller bits over time after making it into the ocean. The resulting tiny pieces can find their way into the food chain of marine species. They could be consumed by almost all living organisms in oceans, including very small planktons, turtles, and even whales.
The Mediterranean Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea are among areas already having high plastic pollution levels, the review noted. Some other regions currently lacking such hazardous levels also showed a risk of having similar in years to come.
Need for greater action
This research review shows the need to do more to keep plastics from making their way to the ocean. Consumers have to reassess their behaviors as regard plastic use and disposal. Governments around the world should also do more in regulating plastic production and disposal.
“What we need is a good policy framework,” said WWF’s Heike Vesper. “It’s a global problem and it needs a global solution.
Bergmann said policymakers should turn their attention toward ensuring that more plastic does not find its way into oceans. A number of the studies covered in the review suggest that levels of tiny plastic bits will continue to go up for decades even if preventive measures are now put in place, she noted.