The Dangers of Ocean Litter, Writ Large - Oceana USA
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March 1, 2013

The Dangers of Ocean Litter, Writ Large

In an apparent guerilla stunt, a wildlife sculpture in downtown Vancouver has been “caught” in a giant plastic 6-pack ring. The sculpture, located at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow Streets, depicts two dolphins, whose necks are now caught in the giant plastic rings marked with the “” web address.

This stunt is a large-scale reminder of the dangers of litter, particularly plastics, in our ocean. Approximately 75-80 million tons of plastics are used every year to produce the world’s food packaging alone, and a large proportion of these plastics inevitably end up in our oceans. Almost 80% of the garbage found in the ocean comes from land-based sources, with the majority being packaging and food containers like the ubiquitous 6-pack ring featured in this guerilla demonstration. This garbage kills sea creatures by strangling them, drowning them through entanglement, or even starving them through malnutrition when ingested debris in the creatures’ stomachs prevents them from getting the food and nutrients that they require. 

Ocean currents push this litter and plastic throughout the world, often ending up in remote areas and isolated beaches. The North Pacific Gyre, an area of the Pacific Ocean also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, contains an estimated 150 million tons of abandoned fishing nets, bottles, packaging, and small bits of plastic. The garbage patch covers an area estimated to be twice the size of the United States, and extending at least 100 feet deep, if not deeper. A 2009 report by the United Nations Environment Program found that exposure to the sun and waves has caused these plastic materials to break down into miniscule pieces that sea creatures at the lowest ends of the food chain can consume. When predators like marine mammals and sea birds consume these creatures, they take the plastic into their digestive systems.

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of everything from sea turtles to albatrosses to whales. A report released this week highlighted the case of a Florida sea turtle that had swallowed so much plastic, it defecated 74 foreign objects over the month after it was rescued. Some of those objects included four types of latex balloons, nine types of soft plastic, four types of hard plastic, and a piece of carpet-like material. According to the report, about half of all sea turtles surveyed had ingested plastic. These plastics can even end up on our dinner plate when marine organisms that ingest the micro plastics are passed up the food web to a fish or crustacean eaten by humans. The exact food packaging plastic that we toss into the oceans can end up back on our plate, and into our stomachs.

The large scale dolphin demonstration in Vancouver points out the deadly effects of tossing our litter and plastics into the oceans, and reminds us that while we may honor wildlife in statues and sculptures, we would do more to honor them by protecting them in our daily lives.