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Marine Debris

  • Category
  • Published
    27th Jun, 2019

Under the Ocean Cleanup project, a floating device designed to catch plastic waste has been redeployed in a second attempt to clean up an island of trash swirling in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.



  • Under the Ocean Cleanup project, a floating device designed to catch plastic waste has been redeployed in a second attempt to clean up an island of trash swirling in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.


  • Marine debris, including plastics, paper, wood, metal and other manufactured materials is found on beaches worldwide and at all depths of the ocean.
  • About 80% of marine debris originates from sources on land and the other 20%, about 636,000 tons per year, comes from ocean vessels.
  • The world produces 300 million tons of plastic each year, but only about 10% is recycled. The rest is dumped, landfilled or escapes as trash into landscapes, lakes, rivers and the ocean.
  • About 7 million tons end up in the ocean each year, making up roughly 75% of all marine debris.
  • Microplastics, in the millimeter size range, come mainly from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic.
  • They comprise most of the plastic in the oceanic ‘garbage patches.’
  • There is no way to get nanoplastics and microplastics out of the ecosystem, but both enter food webs because they are ingested by filter feeders and small fish, which gain no nutritional value.
  • They soak up toxins that leach from the particles or adsorb onto them, which scientists suggest can be passed on to humans as well as other wildlife.


  • It is estimated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers.
  • More than half of this plastic is less dense than the water, meaning that it will not sink once it encounters the sea.
  • The stronger, more buoyant plastics show resiliency in the marine environment, allowing them to be transported over extended distances.
  • They persist at the sea surface as they make their way offshore, transported by converging currents and finally accumulating in the patch.
  • Reducing the input of plastics into the ocean is the only way to stop these problems, and the Ocean Recovery Alliance’s Plastic Disclosure Project lists a number of companies that are measuring, managing and reporting on their use of plastic.
  • Not only does plastic pollution in the Great oceans pose risks for the safety and health of marine animals, but there are health and economic implications for humans as well.

Toxic for Sea Surface Feeders

  • Plastic has increasingly become a ubiquitous substance in the ocean. Due to its size and color, animals confuse the plastic for food, causing malnutrition.
  • It poses entanglement risks and threatens their overall behavior, health, and existence.
  • Worldwatch Institute reports that at least 267 species of marine wildlife are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris, most of which is composed of plastic.

Effect on biodiversity:

  • Studies have shown that about 700 species have encountered marine debris, and 92% of these interactions are with plastic.
  • 17% of the species affected by plastic are on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.

Threat of bio-accumulation and magnification:

Since 84% of this plastic was found to have at least one Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxic Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxic (PBT) chemical, animals consuming this debris are therefore ingesting the chemicals attached to the plastic.

Affects the Foodchain

Through a process called bioaccumulation, chemicals in plastics will enter the body of the animal feeding on the plastic, and as the feeder becomes prey, the chemicals will pass to the predator – making their way up the food web that includes humans.

These chemicals that affected the plastic feeders could then be present within the human as well.

Affects the Economy

The United Nations reported that the approximate environmental damage caused by plastic to marine ecosystems represents 13 billion USD.

This figure included the cost of beach cleanups and the financial loss incurred by fisheries.

Fighting for Trash Free Seas

Marine debris isn’t an ocean problem—it’s a people problem. That means people are the solution.

Tackling the problem of plastic in the ocean begins on land. Reduction in plastics use, especially of single-use disposable products, and the collection and recycling of plastics in developing countries can help to reduce the amount of plastic waste that enters the ocean.

Ocean Conservancy: the leading way for practical solutions

  • Empower People: to people on every street corner, creek bed and coastal waterway to empower them to stop the flow of trash before it hits our shores.
  • Strengthen the science: improve the knowledge of ocean trash issue.
  • Engage everyone in solutions: to bring systemic, durable solutions to the ocean trash issue.
  • Promote good policies: to strengthen a national focus on marine debris.

India sets pace in global race to beat plastic pollution:

  • Initiated to join UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign
  • The government has established national and regional marine litter action campaign as well as a program to measure the total marine plastic footprint in India’s coastal waters.
  • Urban e-mobility program to scale back emissions.
  • The state of Andhra Pradesh launched a scale-out plan to transition 6 million farms from conventional synthetic chemical agriculture to Zero-Budget Natural Farming.

As part of the official ceremony in Delhi, the Indian government, in collaboration with UN Environment also launched a joint World Environment Day Report: “Single-use Plastics: A roadmap for Sustainability”.

Presenting case studies from more than 60 countries, the report analyzes the complex relationships in our plastics economy and offers an approach to rethink how the world produces, uses and manages single-use plastics.

The Ocean Cleanup

  • It is a non-profit organization, developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic based in Netherlands.
  • It has conducted two expeditions to the North Pacific Gyre, and published scientific papers.
  • The clean-up approach uses barriers in ocean gyres to scoop up marine debris as the barrier is pushed by wind and current.
  • The project aims to launch a total of 60 such systems in the patch by 2021.
  • It is predicted that this capability could clean up 50% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.
  • Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP):
  •  It is also described as the Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre of marine debris particles in the north central Pacific Ocean.
  • Sea turtles by-caught in fisheries operating within and around the patch can have up to 74% (by dry weight) of their diets composed of ocean plastics.
  • Laysan albatross chicks from Kure Atoll and Oahu Island have around 45% of their wet mass composed of plastics from surface waters of the GPGP.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Once plastic particles reach the marine environment, wind and global ocean currents can spread them around the world. Ocean plastic pollution is an alarming issue due to its persistence, complexity, steady growth and the pervasive impacts it has on ecosystems. Discuss.


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