Most people have heard of the Dead Sea and Red Sea but not many know about the Plastic Sea, so what is the Plastic Sea ? The Plastic Sea is what we are effectively turning our entire ocean into, a giant water mass filled with Plastic.There are already massive parts of the ocean that contain more plastic particles than plankton. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a good example of this. An area roughly the size of Texas located in the central North Pacific Ocean where high concentrations of plastic and other garbage have been trapped in the North Pacific Gyre. Another example of the extent of the pollution are islands that are uninhabited by humans but covered in plastic and other garbage. Most people are unaware of the extent of this problem because most tourist beaches are cleaned of debris on a daily basis and therefore we don’t see how bad it is.
Plastic affects the ocean and other ecosystems and ultimately us too, therefore it is of the utmost importance that we take charge of this threat before it is too late, if it is not already too late.
To understand the problem we need to understand what plastic is and where it came from in the first place, and also why it has become such a popular packaging material. Plastic is a byproduct derived from petrochemicals but can also be made from renewable materials like polylactic acid from corn or cellulosics from cotton liners. Due to to the low cost and ease of manufacturing , its versatility and imperviousness to water plastics are so popular, and used in almost everything today. The fact that its is such durable material makes it the top choice for packaging products but at the same time it is this attribute that makes it such problem for marine and other ecosystems. Long story short plastics have been around for a very long time as they are made of polymers which can be found naturally in many things even in our own DNA, but it wasn’t till 1907 that Belgian born American Leo Baekeland created the first synthetic plastic from fossil fuel. It was in the 1960 that the plastic bag was introduced and became popular and sparked the plastic boom. The plastic bag was introduced as a single use bag which created pollution problems, in many countries the plastic bag has been prohibited to help combat the waste problem.
Why is plastic so bad for the ocean and ultimately for us ? Well, with all the plastic we put into the ocean it is inevitable that it will be eaten by marine creatures for example many turtle and whale species eat jellyfish which if compared to a plastic bag floating in the sea current are indistinguishable this plastic then gets stuck inside there digestive system causing them to die a slow painful death. When plastic is exposed to the sun and saltwater for long enough it will break down into smaller pieces although never becoming less, just smaller pieces amounting to the same total mass. This allows it to be consumed by smaller animals and this then goes all the way up the food chain till it reaches us . When we consume plastic unknowingly via our food we put ourselves at risk in a variety of ways like direct toxicity caused by lead, cadmium and mercury that are contained within plastic products , carcinogens as n the case of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and endocrine disruption with can lead to cancer, birth defects , immune system suppression and developmental problems in children just to name a few.
Now that we understand little bit more about how this all started, is there anything we can do to combat this ever growing problem? There are many things we can and are doing on many levels. Removing the already existing plastic from the ocean by conducting beach or reef cleanups like the one we do here in Roatan with Splash Inn is one way to help, but this can only be done on a very small scale and will only remove a small amount of the plastic that has already made its way to the ocean. There are also projects that could cleanup plastic and other trash on a much larger scale like that of 19 year old Boyan Slat who has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 725000 tons of plastic from the ocean. Removing plastic from the ocean is however not the solution to our plastic problem we should rather stop it from getting there in the first place by becoming more aware of how our activity affects our environment and by moving away from plastic and non biodegradable products.
I sincerely hope that we will wake up and take responsibility to putting an end to this destruction of the beautiful marine ecosystem that we all ultimately depend on to survive, because if we do not we will suffer the grave consequences of our own ignorance.