Plastic is everywhere and in everything, and it never goes away. Over time, it breaks down into tiny pieces, which makes its way into our water sources, the food chain and even the air we breathe. Tens of thousands of individual marine organisms have been observed suffering from entanglement or ingestion of plastics – from zooplankton, corals and fish to sea turtles, marine mammals like whales and seabirds. Plastic consumption can lead to starvation once an animal’s stomach is full of plastic, as well as other negative health effects that we are just now starting to understand. Our oceans are choking on plastics, and so are these five animals, literally.
Help protect these animals, add your voice to #EndThePlasticDisaster at Change.org/EndThePlasticDisaster.
Plastic has been found in almost every species of whale in our oceans. From whales as small as the harbour porpoise to incredibly rare beaked whales and fin whales – the second largest whale in the ocean. A 2019 beluga whale study, conducted in Canada’s remote Arctic waters, found microplastics in the stomach and intestines of every single one tested. Some whales consume plastic directly through filter feeding, a process where they take large gulps of water and siphon out tiny prey like plankton. Other species consume it indirectly through the food chain, when they eat fish and other animals that have already consumed plastics.
There are seven species of sea turtles found throughout the world’s oceans and research has shown that all seven have ingested plastic. A 2018 study investigating plastic in 102 individual sea turtles found it in the digestive system of every single sea turtle. Many of us may remember seeing the heart-wrenching video of a sea turtle having the straw pulled from its nose. This is a very visceral reminder that we need to work toward a future without unnecessary single-use plastics.
Like whales, seabirds accidentally ingest plastic both directly and indirectly. Some mistake it for prey, such as krill and fish eggs, while others accumulate it in their bodies from plastic in the fish and other animals they eat. Adult birds also feed this plastic to their chicks, threatening their chances of survival. Unfortunately, scientists estimate that 90 per cent of seabirds have ingested plastic. As plastic production continues to grow, some scientists predict that it will be found in the digestive system of 99 per cent of all seabird species by 2050.
For many fish, certain microplastics look similar to their food sources, such as phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish eggs. In a study conducted on fish that eat plankton in the North Pacific, scientists found that the colours of the plastics in the fishes’ digestive systems were most commonly white, clear and blue – the same colours as the plankton in the area, their primary food source. It’s not just fish in the oceans that are affected either; freshwater fish face the same threats. A study conducted in 2018 found plastic in every single fish tested in the Great Lakes.
Plastic is harming human health at every single stage of its life cycle, from extraction and production to consumer use and end of life. It is making its way into our food, water and air. Everything from salt to honey to beer to seafood has been found to contain microplastics.7 In fact, it is estimated that humans may consume approximately one credit card worth of plastic each week. It is undeniable that we are eating and drinking plastic, but just how it is impacting our health is still unclear. Scientists continue to study what our plastic consumption may be doing to our bodies.
Recent polling has shown that the vast majority of Canadians want a future without plastic pollution. The Canadian government made a commitment to reduce single-use plastics, and it’s critical that this commitment is fulfilled, for the sake of our oceans, for ourselves and our future.
Canada has an opportunity to show strong global leadership in the face of the plastic disaster and join other countries in creating a plastic-free future. Join Oceana Canada to lend your support and sign the petition at Change.org/EndThePlasticDisaster, urging the Canadian government to fulfill its commitment to ban unnecessary single-use plastics that are choking the oceans and devastating marine life by 2021.