Dangerous waste: More plastic than fish in the ocean

by tine sintermann on November 16, 2020

About two thirds of the earth's surface is covered by oceans. If you calculate in three-dimensional space and add the volume at depth, they even take up 90% of the total living space on earth. While we can get a good impression of the flora and fauna of the coastal areas by diving and snorkelling ourselves, only a fraction of the dark deep sea has been explored, estimated to be no more than 5%. But even here the human being has already left traces in the form of microplastics.

Ocean Life microplastics danger to environment

The sea is life-giving organism number one: Plant plankton produces a large part of our oxygen through photosynthesis and is the most important food source for the sea inhabitants, directly or indirectly. Temperature, salinity and solar radiation determine the currents and upheavals of the gigantic water masses that provide oxygen to all regions of the sea. At the same time the water regulates the climate worldwide by storing and releasing solar radiation. However, for some time now, humans have been intervening more and more in this cycle and are increasingly changing the balanced dynamics. Increasingly large areas are now regarded as oxygen-deficient "death zones" in which life is no longer possible. Humans also experience the fatal effects of the imbalance through increasing periods of extreme weather. Overfishing, overexploitation of resources and the littering of the oceans with plastic waste are further damaging the oceans.

The oceans are littered: More plastic than fish

The German Environmental Aid speaks of 10 million tons of plastic waste flooding the oceans every year, over 600 animal species are directly affected, every year about one million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine mammals die from the plastic waste. Without intervention, more plastic than fish will be swimming in a few decades. Five gigantic garbage maelstroms drift in the seas near the equator. The best known of these whirlpools is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific, its size is estimated to be approximately that of Europe: a continent of indestructible plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws and fishing nets. But according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 18,000 plastic parts per square kilometer of sea surface swim away from the garbage maelstrom.

Environment in danger - microplastic kills ocean

Can't the plastic simply be fished off?

No, say experts. Because an estimated two-thirds of the garbage is not visible at all, drifts in deeper layers of water or sinks to the seabed. So far, none of the technically complex innovations such as the 50-million-euro Ocean Cleanup project has produced the hoped-for results. A further problem: Plastic does not decompose, but breaks down into its smallest individual parts: microplastic. After all, this is no longer visible, but it gets everywhere and accumulates additional environmental toxins. This mix finally reaches the human body via food, thus fatally closing the circle.

Plastic waste in the ocean - danger to our environment

Plastic in the stomach and around the neck - the animals die of civilization waste

Animals confuse the plastic parts with food and accumulate them undigested in their gastrointestinal tract until they finally starve. Because the garbage gets caught and can neither be choked up nor excreted, harder pieces cause severe internal injuries. Just a few pieces in the stomach are enough to increase the mortality risk of the animals enormously, as an Australian study on sea turtles showed in 2018. The animals confused plastic bags with jellyfish, which were part of their preferred food source. Whales, dolphins, sharks - in many perished animals again and again enormous amounts of plastic waste are found. Another massive problem is also the former fishing nets of local fishermen and industrial fishing fleets, which drift lost or disposed of masterless and virtually indestructible to millions in the seas. Hundreds of animal species get caught in them on their hunt for food and eventually drown in them: marine mammals, seals, seabirds and turtles.

Underwater beauty - in danger

Tropical paradises are a thing of the past

The sea washes the garbage onto the beaches all over the world, plastic garbage piles up in the most untouched places on earth. On the Cape Verde Islands, environmentalists had removed tons of garbage in 2018 to enable sea turtles to lay their eggs, as the scientific magazine Spektrum reports. Only 6 months later, they were again faced with the frightening picture: The beach was now completely filled up again, with plastic waste from more than 25 countries. More than one million hermit crabs died in the South Pacific, as Australian researchers published in early 2019: Following their instincts, the crabs crawled into the smallest plastic parts and got caught in them.


Each of us can act!

The flood of dramatic images of plastic-contaminated seas and sea creatures dying of plastic waste will increase in the future. They should make us all aware of the urgency of taking action and fighting against the littering of our planet.

Here is what we can do together:

  • Get informed! All environmental protection organizations such as WWF, Greenpeace, NABU and many others offer extensive information material on their websites.

  • Your voice against the plastic flood in the ocean! Environmental protection organizations are constantly coordinating large petitions directed at the responsible governments to tighten and implement laws to protect our oceans.

  • Reduce - reuse - recycle! Start by yourself, no more plastic waste.

  • Buy unpackaged products, use reusable instead of disposable products. Consume consciously and sustainably.

  • When buying cosmetics, clothing and furniture, look for plastic-free products! Certificates and apps will help you,

  • Separate your garbage! Because only the plastic in the bin can be recycled.

  • Get involved! Even in your vicinity, plastic waste is found in nature, in rivers, canals and lakes. Take part in clean-up campaigns or initiate some yourself.

  • Tell your friends about it! Invite them to actions and share your knowledge!