Oceans are a powerful and majestic entity that our planet possesses and has possessed for years. Whether humans exist or not, oceans will remain on planet Earth. They aren’t going anywhere even if we do. The ocean holds the most unique of creatures in the great depths that are often unexplored. Humans may not call the ocean home, but the ocean serves as a permanent home for many species. Without their home, they will cease to exist. We must protect the oceans of the planet and the creatures that exist in its depths.
Oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface and consist of 97% of the water found on the planet. The ocean hasn’t been fully explored yet and many species currently residing in the ocean are unknown. Currently, 1.5 million marine species have been found, named, and recorded, but there are approximately 50 million more that haven’t been found or classified incorrectly. As an ecosystem, the ocean is broken down into five major zones that are distinguishable by the marine species found, depth, temperature, climate, and the amount of sun that penetrates through the surface of the zone. The epipelagic zone sits right under the surface of the ocean and reaches depths approximately 600 feet deep, is a very sunlit area that is required for photosynthesis and is home to phytoplankton and other microscopic organisms. The mesopelagic zone sits under the epipelagic zone and reaches depths of approximately 3,300 feet, is known as the “twilight zone” due to a scarce amount of sunlight and is home to large fish and whales who hunt prey. The bathypelagic zone sits under the mesopelagic zone and reaches depths of approximately 13,100 feet, is known as the “midnight zone” due to the absence of sunlight and is home to smaller species with different physical features that are needed to survive in that environment. The abyssopelagic zone sits under the bathypelagic zone and reaches depths of approximately 19,700 feet, is colder and saltier compared to other zones, and is home to bioluminescent squid and fish. The bottommost zone is the hadalpelagic zone which is the deepest zone, usually found in trenches and volcanoes, and home to sea cucumbers and sponges.
Now, plastic pollution is negatively affecting these ocean zones and the abundant marine life residing within the ecosystem. Plastic pollution destroys ocean ecosystems and endangers marine life. The world produces more than 380 million tons of plastic annually which can wind up entering oceans and the environment in the future. Approximately 80% of plastic pollutants found in oceans came from land-based sources and only 20% from marine sources. This statistic says a lot about humans and our failure to protect the environment.
When plastics enter the ocean, the effects can be life-threatening to marine life and dangerous to the environment. When ropes, nets, or fishing lines are disposed of in the ocean, marine life becomes entangled and that leads to strangulation and death. When marine species ingest plastic, their digestive tracts become blocked which leads to injuries inside their bodies. Whales and dolphins become stranded after they ingest plastics found in the ocean which causes stunted growth in fish by consuming prey that previously ingested plastics. Marine species that ingest plastics can have a wide range of problems with their cell function, immune system, fertility, reproduction, and behavior. When plastics cover the surface of oceans, corals, sponges, and mangroves are unable to photosynthesize. Many plastics release chemicals into the marine environment can lead to hormonal disruption and altercations in reproduction, fertility, and behavior.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an increase in plastic pollution in oceans. During the pandemic, China disposed of 702 million facemasks a day and by the end of 2020, the amount of plastic waste accumulation could reach approximately 801 million tons. In countries like China, the practice of proper waste management is nonexistent, and therefore face masks and other disposals during the pandemic were discarded in areas where they can easily be released into the environment, rivers, and oceans.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is one of many stretches of ocean that is filled with plastic trash. The GPGP was founded in 1997 after plastic debris in oceans was first noticed in oceans in 1972. There are approximately 1.8 million trillion pieces of plastic trash in the GPGP. Microplastics make up 94% of the plastic found in the GPGP. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, microplastics and even small plastics are leading the world’s environmental problems.
Recycling and reducing the usage of plastic are ways society can help and aid in the process of ocean recovery. If you are going on a picnic, pack reusable utensils and plates instead of plastic ones. At the grocery store, use cloth grocery bags instead of bringing home plastic bags. With more and more people reducing the amount of plastic they use and recycling, ultimately there will be a global effort toward saving and protecting our oceans and its creatures.
Edited by: Shahnawaz Chodhry
Photo by: Romolo Tavani (One Green Planet)
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