Effect of Plastic Debris on Marine Species Research Paper

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¶ … Plastic Debris on Marine Species

Marine litter has been a huge nuisance to marine life and especially plastic debris. Marine debris is defined as any solid material which finds its way into the waters. This marine debris or litter has many negative effects to aquatic life. Close to 80% of all marine debris is of plastic nature Van et al. 1(; Weisman)

According to the Greenpeace Report on Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans, over 260 different species of marine life are known and documented to have been adversely affected by being trapped in marine litter or their ingestion Allsopp et al. 2.

These species include whales, seals, seabirds, sea lions, turtles and fish. Efforts should be developed and implemented to help alleviate these dangerous effects of plastic debris in order to preserve and protect marine life.

In a research conducted, the percentage of plastic in marine debris was calculated. It was found that in the North Eastern Atlantic, there were about 92% plastics in the sea bed marine debris. In the European Coasts, there were about 70% plastics in the sea floor marine debris and South Australia there were about 62% plastics in the beach marine debris. In South Africa, the amount of beach marine debris that was plastic in nature 88% and New Zealand, it is 75% Jose G.B 843.

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These figures were aggregated from several researches done all over the world on marine debris, and the global trend is that between 60 -- 80% of marine debris is plastic in nature.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Effect of Plastic Debris on Marine Species Assignment

Plastics are artificial compounds, most of which are built from polyesters, and usually have different shapes, colors and sizes depending on the compound and dyes. Plastic waste is of utmost importance since in all our daily activities, we come across plastic materials. The worst part of these plastic materials is that they are not easily decomposable or degradable. However, they easily break down into smaller particles and simpler compounds. Small plastics whose size is less than 5mm in length are referred to as micro plastics Arthur 2.

This process of breaking down into smaller particles is extremely slow and may take years and even decades. Even though these plastics may break down into smaller particles, they cannot be mineralized into their individual components such as carbon dioxide gas, water and the inorganic molecules. Plastics are best disposed into landfills and compost piles where the heat conditions and other conditions such as moisture and bacteria can help in the decomposition process. However, in the ocean, the conditions are less favourable. Water hinders the process of degradation of plastics Martins and Sobral 1()

Some of the common plastics are as in the table below.


Name of compound

Common uses


Polyethylene terephthalate

Soda bottles (PET bottles)



Supermarket paper bags and plastic bottles





Polyvinyl Chloride

Plumbing pipes


Polyvinylidene chloride

Packaging especially of food



Food container, plastic plates and cutlery


High impact polystyrene

Vending machine cups



Yoghurt cups, drinking straws and bottle caps



Compact discs (CDs), plastic eye glasses



Toothbrush bristles and fishing lines



Thermal insulation material


High density polyethylene

Milk bottles and detergent containers


Low density polyethylene

Floor tiles and outdoor furniture

As can be seen from the table above, these plastic materials are found in everyday materials which are used by people enjoying their time at the beach. In a study done in the Western North Atlantic Ocean on the size, mass and composition of plastic debris, it was found that the most common plastic debris was low and high density polyethylene (LDPE and HDPE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), nylon 6 (PA6), polystyrene (PS), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Moret-Ferguson et al. 1874()

Plastic materials have also largely been used in the manufacture of fishing equipment due to their relatively cheap nature. Previously, natural fibers and metals were used to make fish nets and fishing lines. However, today, many of these are made using plastics.

The problem created by plastics also arises as a result of the huge number of people who visit beaches all over the world every other day. Popular beaches can see thousands of people visit the beach every day and this creates a massive problem in terms of waste management and this is one of the chief reasons why plastic debris in marine water is increasing.

Sources of plastic debris

The activities which act as sources of plastic debris can be categorized into four cardinal categories.

1. Tourism related litter -- this is litter that is left by tourists visiting the beach. They include food packaging materials, food containers, plastic toys, beverage packaging materials, cigarette matter, etc.

2. Sewage-related waste -- this type of waste gets into the sea through storm drains and combined sewer systems which carry both runoff water and sewage. When these are discharged into the oceans, rivers or lakes, they can introduce plastic debris into marine waters. Some of the plastic debris that can be introduced through this method includes food packaging materials, used condoms, plastic toys, beverage packaging materials, etc.

3. Fishing related waste -- this type of waste is introduced as a result of the activities of fishing. These include when fishing nets or pieces of fishing nets and fishing lines are accidentally left in the waters or these pieces may break away and enter into the waters.

4. Wastes from boats and ships -- this last category incorporates all the waste from people and ships and pieces of these ships breaking off and entering into the water. These may be accidentally or intentionally dumped into the sea.

A different classification of the sources of marine plastic debris divides them into two broad categories which are land-based sources and sea-based sources. Land-based sources are those where the debris is washed, blown or discharged into the sea from the land. The UN GESAMP (United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution) suggests that about 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources. Land-based sources can be as a result of five principal activities. First is storm water which is water that collects during heavy rains. Rain water can sweep off street litter into the storm drainage system and these are then discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans. The second activity is combined sewers which are sewers that carry both storm water and sewage. During heavy rains, these combined sewers have an enormous capacity that cannot be handled by the sewage treatment plant and may end up being discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans introducing these plastics. The other activities are littering and industrial activities which may introduce these plastics to the marine waters. Lastly, there is the disposal of solid waste in the sea. Sea barging was one of the widely used solid waste disposal methods and this introduces these plastic wastes to the sea.

The second category is sea-based sources. Here, there are four major activities which introduce the plastic debris either accidentally or deliberately. These sea-based methods are largely from the activities at the sea from boats and ship which are commercial fishing, recreational boating, and oil tankers, military and merchant vessels. Offshore oil and gas plants also lead to introduction of plastic debris into the ocean waters.

Plastic debris has also been thought to be as a result of alien space-crafts crashing into the sea during alien invasions. Though this can be easily dismissed by a simple argument that aliens do not exist, this possibility cannot be completely ignored.

Size and amount of plastic debris

There are basically three types of marine plastic debris.

1. Floating debris -- this is the debris which is lighter than water and thus floats on the water. From the results of several studies, it was found that the amount of debris in most areas was between 0-10 items per square kilometer. However, in the English Channel, higher values were recorded in the range of 10-100+ items per square kilometer. Indonesia had the highest amount of debris at more than 4 items for every square meter. It is thought that this floating debris is mostly contributed by wastes from boats and ships and fishing expeditions.

2. Seafloor debris -- this is the type of debris that is heavier than water and thus sinks to the floor of the sea. From several studies conducted in the waters around the world, it was found that waters in the Europe region had the second highest quantity of debris at the floor of the sea. The average was about 101,000 items per square kilometer. However, in this category, again Indonesia had the highest amount debris at little below seven hundred thousand items per square kilometer.

3. Shoreline debris - the last type of debris is that which can be found at the shoreline. This type of debris is usually found at the shoreline. Indonesia was the runner up here with about 29 items per meter while Sicily… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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