The science is clear: the world’s oceans simply can’t take the burden of our plastic waste. Seabirds have been ingesting more of the stuff over the past few decades and the percentage of birds with plastic in their systems is expected to hit 99 percent by 2050. The jump to 90 percent – where it is today – was a quick one, as the number was only 10 percent back in the 70s and 80s.
A new study from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shed light on the extent of the problem, including new information about just where most plastics are found today. The most concentrated areas of marine debris used to be the stretch between California and Hawaii, however new evidence points to the growing dangers of the Tasman Sea, located between the east coast of Australia and New Zealand. Other research has discovered that plastic production has doubled every 11 years since the 1950s. While today that means 300 million tons produced every year, a shocking 7 million tons end up in the oceans.
Seabirds often confused bright plastics for krill or shrimp, scooping them up and even feeding them to their young. The 2013 documentary, Midway, highlighted a remote Pacific island littered with the plastic-ridden corpses of albatrosses, many of whom were just babies. Plastic is harmful in many ways to wildlife: blocking their airways or digestive systems, choking them externally, and leaching toxins into their bodies. We can do better. Perhaps by reducing the amount of plastic we purchase, making our own cosmetics and toiletries at home, recycling responsibly, and encouraging others to lower their impact we can see these numbers start to stabilize and even go down, instead of skyrocket.