By Moojan Haidari
How connected and dependent are humans and marine life on the health of oceans?
To explore this important question, I did some investigative research from several trusted sources. The findings are both alarming and, if we act now, hopeful.
What is the function of Oceans?
Oceans aren’t just a great place for engaging in outdoor leisure and commercial activities. They are a vital organ that feeds and sustains all life within the waters and on land.
Marine ecosystems are a home for more than 200,000 known species (with an estimated two thirds yet to be discovered). Though the underwater world may feel like a galaxy away from us, we are intertwined in many different ways.
Oceans play an important role in keeping the Earth’s carbon cycle in balance. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, the oceans absorb a lot of it.
Plastic Waste Threatens Human Health
However, with the global rise in GHG emissions, and billions upon billions of items of plastic waste choking our oceans, lakes, rivers and piling up on land, plastic pollution is a real and growing threat to human health.
This threat was further emphasized by National Geographic in 2018. According to their research findings, more than 25 million tons of plastic are predicted to have made its way into our oceans, in the next five to 10 years with devastating effects on marine and human life.
Plastic Waste: Macro and Micro
When people think of plastic waste in the ocean, familiar items like plastic bags, straws, product packaging, fishnets other plastic items come to mind. In reality, plastic (both macro and micro) migrates from coastal areas into the ocean, and breaks down into smaller pieces, often mistaken by marine animals as food.
If that’s not bad enough, the chemicals found in plastics are also poisoning marine life, which in turn can make us sick. Some of these chemicals can have serious effects, disrupting our hormone functions, interfere with brain development in children, or cause cancer.
Take, for example, table salt. A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that 90% of commercial food-grade salts around the world contain high levels of microplastics. The study estimates that an average adult consumes approximately 2,000 microplastics each year through salt.
Another study published in GESAMP discovered microplastics in more than 100 aquatic species. This means that some of your seemingly delicious seafood meals may contain possibly the same plastic packaging that you bought them in.
Since research on the impacts of plastic on humans is relatively new, who knows how dangerous all this plastic waste could be for our health.
Recent studies show that plastic is mainly found in the digestive tracks of marine life. That said, scientists predict that the further degradation of plastic could result in an increase in nano-plastics, which is essentially plastic that has become invisible. What’s alarming about nano plastics is that they have the ability to penetrate cells and tissues of marine life, which may lead to further human health implications.
We need to tackle the global issue of plastic pollution now. Not wait until the oceans are so clogged that it’s too late.
Here’s where the hope comes in.
If governments, companies and citizens work together on the common goal of reducing plastic waste now, a sustainable future for our oceans, marine life and humanity, is possible.
We can start with simple changes like legislation to ban single-use plastics, adopting refillable glass as the container of choice, creating more biodegradable and nature-friendly options, investing in innovative ways to reduce the use of and recycle plastics before they enter our precious waters – and our bodies.
About the Author: Moojan Haidari, graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University. She worked as a reporter, writer, editor, and social media specialist for a variety of organizations. You can send her a tweet at @moojanhaidari.