When we damage our water systems, we're putting not only putting marine life at risk, we're also putting human life and resources in peril.
Our planet currently has six plastic islands made of trapped garbage. The damage to sea life by these plastic death traps can only be imagined, but scientists are now investigating the long-term impacts of toxic pollutants absorbed, transported, and consumed by fish and other marine life, including the potential effects on human health.
Plastic that now pollutes our oceans and waterways is having a severe impact on our environment and our economy. Seabirds, whales, sea turtles and other marine life are eating marine plastic pollution and dying from choking, intestinal blockage and starvation.
Scientists previously thought that only actual plastic floating in the ocean could harm marine animals. But, new research proves there are additional unseen dangers being created by the plastic we discard daily. Initially it was thought that large plastic rubbish heaps were caused by shipping fleets that crisscross our oceans everyday. Although an estimated 639,000 plastic containers thrown overboard everyday do contribute to ocean death traps, this only represents 20% of the overall plastic pollution that flows into our seas, with the other 80% originating from land sources.
New research is being done on the overall effects our continued disposal of plastics is having on our marine life. We know marine life is being affected to some extent, we know there are already many species on the brink of extinction, yet we continue to use and dispose of millions of tons of plastic into our precious oceans. Plastic floating islands are not killing our marine life – humans are.
A recent study headed by Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy at Nihon University in Japan, has shown that some of these plastics could actually be decomposing in the sea, releasing potentially toxic chemicals into the habitat of all our marine life. Scientists previously believed that plastics only broke down at very high temperatures and over hundreds of years. Saido's team, however, collected water samples from oceans across the globe and found that these samples contained derivatives of polystyrene, a common plastic used in disposable cutlery, styrofoam and DVD cases amongst other things.
To prove that there was a link between these toxic compounds and plastic, Saido's team were able to simulate plastic decomposition at 30ºC, leaving bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomers in the water, the same compounds discovered in the ocean samples – compounds that are not naturally found in ocean water.
Finding BPA specifically in the water is a major concern as previous studies have shown that exposure to this compound can have an effect on an animal's hormone system. If an animal eats plastic, the plastic will not break down in the animal's system, but when the substance has been released into the animal’s natural environment the substance may be absorbed by the animal. What effect this could have on animal's reproduction systems or ability to fight disease is anyone's guess.