Marine debris (or marine litter) is defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment.
Marine debris includes consumer items such as glass or plastic bottles, cans, bags, balloons, rubber, metal, fibreglass, cigarettes and other manufactured materials that end up in the ocean and along the coast. It also includes fishing gear such as line, ropes, hooks, buoys and other materials lost on or near land, or intentionally or unintentionally discarded at sea.
Marine debris is globally recognised as an environmental concern. It is a danger to all marine life including birds, sharks, turtles and marine mammals, causing injury or death through drowning, entanglement, or starvation following ingestion.
Studies and analysis of marine debris conducted by the global scientific community are revealing its disturbing impacts with alarming results:
- 44% of marine mammals and 86% of turtle species are estimated to have plastic in their guts.
- 80% of seabird species ingest plastic, 90% of birds in those species had plastics in their gut.
- 99% of the world's seabirds species will be ingesting plastic by 2050 if current marine pollution trends continue.
- 8 million metric tonnes of land-based plastic goes into the oceans each year, the equivalent of 16 shopping bags full of plastic for every metre of coastline (excluding Antarctica).
- By 2025 it is estimated there will be enough plastic in the ocean (on their most conservative estimates) to cover 5% of the earth’s entire surface in cling wrap each year.
An ocean full of plastic? Not so fantastic!
Marine debris is a globally recognised environmental issue as marine ecosystems around the planet are increasingly affected by human-made refuse, much of which is plastic.
Plastics production has surged over the past 50 years, from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is expected to double again over the next 20 years.
Plastic items breakdown as they enter the natural environment but they don’t disappear. They do not biodegrade, instead, many smaller pieces disperse and commonly enter marine and coastal environments.
The silent killer of all the plastics comes in the form of minute remnants, broken down from everyday products. Mostly unseen, they are known as microplastics - or plastic particles smaller than five millimetres in size. Microplastics pose a massive environmental and human health risk when they enter waterways and oceans.
These microplastics absorb man made toxic particles in the ocean, such as PCBs, DDT, BPA and methyl mercury.
The harmful effects of these toxic particles (such as PCBs and DDT) intensify as they are passed up the food chain and are quickly becoming, not only a threat to marine animals everywhere, but also a serious health risk to seafood consumers the world over.
Microplastics have several sources: They're laundered from nylon clothing; they wash down the drain with many cosmetics, exfoliating scrubs and toothpastes; and they weather from debris like plastic bottles, plastic packaging and bags.