Imagine that you have been researching for destinations with the best beaches, softest sand, and warmest water for months, and you are eager to travel to your breathtaking destination. The moment you arrive, you are off to the beach. You close your eyes to soak up the sun and breathe in the coastal air, “this is the life” you tell yourself. Your mind is at ease, stress-free from your everyday life with nothing to think about other than what you’ll be eating for dinner. As you doze off in the warm, tropical weather you hear a cry for help. You see a little girl, who like you, was enjoying her vacation and having fun splashing in the waves until it was ruined by what she saw. A crowd of people gathers around her to see what caused the scream, so you follow. Entangled in fishing wire you see a turtle that struggles to be released from the litter; as you get closer, you see a trail of blood following the helpless sea animal. It is overwhelmed by the surrounding crowd of tourists, flashing cameras, and uproar of the people, so the reptile wrestles with the netting in efforts to get away but it only makes matters worse. You hear a loud siren approaching, the marine rescue team rushes out of the emergency vehicle to save the turtle. Carefully, the experts cut the netting to detangle the creature, but it remains motionless– the amount of blood increased around the animal. The experts fear that there is more debris wounding the animal, but from inside of it. Its nostril. The team rushes the turtle to their hospital to try and save it, but announce that the likes of it surviving are slim. Your heart is beating from what you just witnessed, what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation has quickly become something that will scar you forever. Seeing the turtle in pain and tangled in something humans use carelessly that ends up in the turtle’s home. The scariest part is that thousands of sea animals are affected by trash that pollutes the ocean, and even more have died because they couldn’t be saved. It is awful to realize that the human population permanently harms the marine species with our garbage.

The manufacture and usage of plastic–as an inexpensive, lightweight, and malleable material–has wildly increased across the globe. Plastic products are used every day by nearly every person in the world, but where does that waste go once we’re done with it? The ocean. According to Plastic Oceans International, “[m]ore than eight million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans each year” (Soto). Of course, with an increase in production, there will be an increase of plastic that pollutes the seas, therefore more animals will be affected. Many plastics are single-use products, such as straws, water bottles, utensils, and bags; these single-use products are non-biodegradable meaning that once the plastic products are disposed of, they “remain on the planet for several hundred years before decomposing” (Soto). While in the ocean, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. Microplastics pose a severe threat to sea animals and seabirds. Marine animals can ingest these items, blocking digestive tracts and causing them to starve to death or swim into litter, trapping the vulnerable prey. A study done by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation proves that if the world neglects change, by 2050 “there [will] be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean” (MacArthur). Because of a worldwide demand for plastics and an increase in marine pollution, unless there is an effort to change the acts of human beings, sea creatures could be at risk of extinction.

Marine pollution endangers sea life globally on a large scale. The University of Exeter, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory conducted experiments to find synthetic particles, such as microplastics in a group of sea turtles. “[N]ecropsies — animal autopsies” were performed “on turtles that had either died by stranding or by being accidentally caught by fishermen” (Robinson). The results are shocking. It was recorded that: “Plastic was found in the gut of every single sea turtle examined” (Robinson). The recent study sheds light on how serious marine pollution is, for the presence of plastic to be in all of the animals that were dissected shows how out of hand the situation has become. Much of society is spoiled, meaning that we have adapted to meet our desires instantly. People don’t need plastics, no one needs a plastic bag to carry items, or needs a straw for drinking, rather the world we live in today carelessly uses these products simply to satisfy the things we want. In doing so, we are harming the ocean and the creatures that live in it. It has been proven by the Sea Turtle Conservatory that “100 million marine animals die each year from ocean debris” (Robinson). Debris does not stop at affecting the small animals, it even has a detrimental impact on the most enormous creatures of the sea. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, even “[d]ead whales have been found with bellies full of plastic” (Siegel). One of the most alarming concepts is that just one plastic product, whether it is a straw, bag, or cup, has the potential to fragment in the ocean and come into contact with hundreds of marine animals, posing a threat to an entire species. Change is long overdue when it comes to marine pollution, the world needs healthy and clean oceans for the future generations of both human beings and animals.

Over time, from an increasing presence of plastic that pollutes the ocean, more animals are affected than just sea creatures. Ocean debris has an extremely hazardous effect on seabirds. Similarly to the analysis of plastic particles inside of turtles and whales, the marine bird population has been analyzed. The Department of Marine Science documented that after examining the “body contents of 100… [bird] carcasses collected along the beaches and reefs of Hawaii”, only nine birds were void of “foreign non-food” objects (Azzarello and Van Vleet 299). Marine birds that ingest plastic are deadly impacted; clogged organs, poisoning from plastic chemicals, or starvation from a lack of space in a bird’s stomach are the common effects that plastic pollution causes. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that by 2050, the amount of seabirds that ingest plastic will increase to “99 percent”, while currently it is estimated that “60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic” (Siegel). The conclusions prove that if the world continues to live at the rate the human population does now, then our marine birds are in possible danger of extinction.

In the Pacific Ocean, a collection of marine debris makes up the largest trash vortex in the world called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Many scientists have explored the trash heap that pollutes the North part of the Pacific Ocean, but the size remains unknown due to the accumulation of debris, because much of it is made of plastic and non-biodegradable objects, and not all of the trash floats–the area is just too vast to find the exact size of the garbage patch. A National Geographic article explains that in the gyre, marine debris is especially harmful to marine life, “loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food” and that “[a]lbatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs” (Evers 4). Sea Animals commonly mistake bits of trash for food, putting their lives at risk if they ingest them. The same article highlights seals and marine mammals who are at risk near the Great Pacific Garbage Vortex. Evers states, “[marine mammals] can get entangled in abandoned plastic fishing nets, which are being discarded largely due to inclement weather and illegal fishing” (4). These large sea animals are even beat by plastic pollution, mammals often drown in the nets that contaminate their home, dying at the deepest level of the ocean. Tragically, there is no reversal from what comprises the Great Pacific Garbage Vortex. The vortex is formed in between Hawaii and California, although it spans across a vast area of the ocean, it is located far from any country’s coastline. Not a single nation has taken the responsibility to clean or fund the decontamination of the garbage patch. Carles Moore, the sailor who first discovered the vortex, believes “cleaning up the garbage patch would ‘bankrupt any country’ that tried it” (qtd. in Evers 5). Although the attempt to clean up the trash vortex is nearly impossible– requiring special designed nets to prevent accidentally capturing sea life, endless amounts of time dedicated to help, and the risks of danger– many private and international organizations are committed to stopping the growth of the Great Pacific Garbage Vortex. It is estimated that “it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean” by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program (Evers 5). Based off of the hypothesis, the issue is that once a year has passed and one percent of the trash has been removed from the vortex, there will continue to be a great amount of plastic produced on land and therefore thrown into the ocean, adding to the continuously growing garbage patch.

No doubt plastic is valued globally that is both long-lasting and cheap, but the effects that plastic has on marine animals are unacceptable and change is long overdue. A frightening part is that many studies predict that the production of plastic will exponentially increase in the years to come. The MacArthur Foundation estimates that “[plastic] production is expected to double over the next two decades” (MacArthur). At the rate society depends on plastic, we are so quick to throw it away–carelessly adding to the amount of marine pollution in the ocean. Patterns are exposed in reports, stats, and experiments, which give an insight into possibilities for the future; In the same article, MacArthur predicts: “if the current trend continues, there [will] be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by 2050” (1). The shock brought on by the estimation should be a wake-up call to society. It is never too late for change, at this time it is long overdue. If the human population wants to continue to have the marine species inhabit Earth, permanent change is necessary. Further, the ocean will no longer have beautiful relaxing beaches that serve as top vacation destinations, they will be ruined with heaps of trash that we carelessly threw away. The generations to come will have completely different views on oceans, sea-life, and beaches than the population has today and had in the past. For the ocean, which makes up over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, to become a garbage patch because of the careless actions of human beings would be disappointing of the population worldwide. This is our home, as a population we have the responsibility to save our planet and its inhabitants.

Due to a trend of reports and studies conducted regarding the future of plastics, many nations, companies, and even individuals have taken it upon themselves to make changes for a better environment. Plans of action have been considered and some have even been attempted, such as bettering recycling methods, new methods for packaging, and bans or boycotts of companies and products that have a detrimental effect on the marine species. According to Turtle Savers, a private company that is dedicated to reducing plastic waste and providing alternate products that can replace plastic, “in the United States alone 500,000,000 [plastic straws] are used every single day!” (Maddox). The usage of an unnecessary item to drink something is not a good excuse, given that one plastic straw has the potential to decompose and detrimentally affect marine animals.

Despite the determined efforts to ban plastic products, such as plastic straws, there is a need for them by some of the population, which continues to complicate matters. The shocking results of plastic that accumulates in our oceans became a global crisis. The population is ready to make changes in efforts to save the environment. The most trendy, worldwide alteration is the plastic straw ban. The anti-straw movement has inspired many restaurants and coffee shops to discontinue plastic straws. Much of the population supported the movement and began to invest in the durable alternatives to plastic straws, but the movement accidentally offended a group of our society. Wiley-Mydske, an autism activist says: “You’re putting this burden on disabled people to come up with a solution. You’re not asking companies that manufacture straws to come up with a version that works for us… How many of you are willing to die for the environment?” (qtd. in Danovich). The frustration of an activist is understandable, the disabled population was never addressed about the new proposition before it was implemented, adding to their frustration. Those with limited jaw control cannot bite down on an alternative material that makes up straws, it is a riskful life or death situation.

The world is long overdue for change, the situation is on us. We are the only ones who can make alterations for the best interest of marine animals, the ocean, and the future generations to come. The marine population is in extreme danger because of our trash that pollutes the ocean, contaminating their environment. The ocean is covered in microplastics, research shows how affecting it is to have more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface polluted in plastic and debris, which is found in the gut of nearly every sea animal. The declining populations of turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds are at risk of possible extinction. Boycotts, bans, and laws are enforced to minimize the amount of plastic that is produced and thrown away. Globally, if each state, city, or individual makes an effort to better its recycling methods and decrease plastic production, the ocean’s inhabitants will suffer less. Although it is impossible to undo the centuries of debris that has collected in the ocean, it is never too late for change. Across the nation, efforts to save sea life and the ocean could have a tremendous impact. The upcoming generations should be able to think of oceans and its beaches as beautiful, mysterious, and relaxing destinations… not a polluted wasteland that hosts endangered animals.

Essay by: Zulema Gomez
Columbine High School

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