The Widespread Killing of Marine Animals by Plastic Debris

by Dee Fulton on November 13, 2015

Lethal debris from inside sea turtle

Another Whale Dead From Ingesting a Plastic Bag

NOAA Marine Debris Program | October 30, 2015

From an Article of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, October 30, 2015

[EcoWatch Editor’s note: Yesterday EcoWatch reported that a mature sperm whale was found dead in Taiwan. Local marine biologists said plastic bags and fishing nets filling its stomach.]

Marine debris can be a dangerous problem for the animals that inhabit the marine environment. Unfortunately, we recently saw this first-hand on a Florida beach. A melon-headed whale that was recovered along Florida’s east coast died due to a large plastic bag in its digestive system. NOAA Fisheries’ stranding network staff, partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute responded to the call about a stranding on Riviera Beach.

A decision was made to euthanize the whale after vets at the Palm Beach Zoo determined that the animal was in very poor condition and extremely thin. A necropsy (a non-human autopsy) was performed by a veterinarian to discover the cause of the animal’s poor health and subsequent death, during which a large plastic bag was found to be blocking the whale’s intestinal tract. The whale had suffered from starvation due to the blockage.

This is a sad reminder of the impact of marine debris. Every piece of debris matters. Animals can mistake trash for food or accidentally ingest it when consuming actual food items. However, we can help! By properly disposing of our trash, following the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), helping to educate others, and by cleaning up our shorelines and waterways by getting involved in cleanup events, we can fight the marine debris problem and work to avoid outcomes like this in the future. To learn more about how you can help, visit our website.

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Shocking Photos of Green Sea Turtle Killed by Ingesting Plastics and Other Marine Litter

From an Article by Lorraine Chow,, November 2, 2015

A green sea turtle was found dead on a beach in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, with its stomach and intestines filled with plastic and other marine debris, underscoring the growing crisis of ocean pollution.

The greatest threat to green sea turtles, which are endangered, is the commercial harvesting of their eggs, poaching and bycatch (unintentional capture from fishing).

However, this recent incident in Hong Kong highlights the disturbing fact that human-caused trash is a growing threat to aquatic life. As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told the Hong Kong Free Press, this is the first time that a green sea turtle in Hong Kong has been found dead from ingesting marine litter.

According to Hong Kong newspaper Stand News, the turtle was found by a local woman named Mandy Wong, who immediately notified the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department upon discovery. When she returned to the site the next day, she was surprised to find that the turtle’s body had been torn apart (perhaps by a dog) with the turtle’s stomach and intestines filled with trash.

Dee Hwa Chong, senior fish researcher at the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong, told Chinese newspaper Ming Pao that the turtle had died from ingesting plastic litter that can tear apart its digestive tract and block its intestines, preventing the turtle from taking in food.

The WWF’s Coastal Watch conducted a comprehensive survey on marine litter on coastal habitats in Hong Kong from July 2014 and May 2015, and concluded that plastic trash is a severe threat to all marine ecosystems.

“During all of the surveys, we observed various organisms entangled in debris which caused injury or death, like ‘ghost nets’ (fishing nets which have been cast adrift). We also found fish bite marks on pieces of plastic litter,” said Patrick Yeung, Coastal Watch project manager. “The pollutants absorbed by marine animals will potentially bioaccumulate along the food chain, which will eventually damage the marine ecosystem, affect fishery resources and human health. It is imperative that we tackle the marine litter problem at its source immediately.”

Green turtles are a protected species in Hong Kong and listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. According to, the current population of nesting females is estimated to be between 85,000 and 90,000.

It’s clear that we must reduce our plastic footprint as this pollution chokes the entire marine food chain, from plankton to much larger creatures.

Roughly 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and according to a recent study, 60 percent of this waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. As these economies continue to grow and demand more plastic goods, it’s projected that plastic consumption in Asia will increase by an astonishing 80 percent to surpass 200 million tons by 2025.

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Ten Ways Ocean Pollution Makes Us Sick

By Cole Mellino,, November 7, 2015

Our oceans are very polluted and full of plastic. Roughly 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and according to a new study, the majority of this waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Regardless of its source, plastic pollution has a devastating impact on marine life.

At EcoWatch, we’ve highlighted photos of sea turtles killed by ingesting plastic and other debris. And just recently, two whales have been killed from ingesting plastic bags and fishing gear. But ocean pollution affects humans too.

Check out this infographic from, an online scuba diving magazine, to learn how ocean pollution hurts us, too:

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Why We Must Ban Plastic Bags and Support a Circular Economy

From an Article by Marcus Eriksen,, November 11, 2015

“There’s your product. It’s all plastic bags,” I said to Phil Rozenski, director of sustainability and marketing for Novalex, a plastic bag manufacturer. We were on stage debating the efficacy of plastic bags at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina in early October.

The object I was referring to was a 45-pound mass of tangled plastic bags found in the stomach of a dead camel in the desert of Dubai. The intention was to point out that in a circular economy products and packaging that escape the best recovery systems on the planet and cost taxpayers unfairly to clean up the mess, must be replaced with a design that is a benefit rather than a cost once you include the inconvenient externalities.

For half an hour we went back and forth about statistics that we each use to defend our positions, pointing to the other’s faulty arguments, but I wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I said, “You know, we could go back and forth all day with our convenient statistics, knowing we’re just gonna dig in our heels on where we stand. Can we get beyond it all?”

My point was very simple. Plastic bags by design are really good at escaping our recovery systems and knowing now how dangerous plastics are to the environment, the logical next step is a design overhaul. Out with the old and in with the new. Rozenski nodded his head, then responded, “Would you be willing to support our How2Recycle program?” Two weeks later I was on a call with How2Recycle representatives.

How2Recycle was born out of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and their work to create a circular economy around plastic products and packaging in order to keep materials out of the dump or incinerator and instead keep them moving in a circular system from production and manufacturing to consumption and recovery.

See also: Plastic Bags and Fishing Nets Found in Stomach of Dead Whale

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CBC News (Canada) November 21, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Biodegradable plastics not breaking down in ocean, UN report says 

By Peter Kershaw, et al. CBC News

A new report from the United Nations says plastics labelled biodegradable rarely disintegrate in the ocean because they require industrial composters and prolonged exposure to high temperatures to break down.

Plastic waste is a serious concern in the world’s oceans, where as much as 20 million tonnes of plastic ends up each year, according to recent estimates from the United Nations Environment Program.

Biodegradable plastics were created to help reduce waste. However, the report released this week says some polymers need to be exposed to prolonged temperatures of above 50 C to disintegrate. 

These conditions are hard to come by in nature, says Peter Kershaw, one of the authors of the study.

“When you get in the ocean, the rates of degradation are even lower because UV light penetration is very limited,” said Kershaw.

“It’s cold, there’s less oxygen. So once it’s in the sea it’s just going to stay there for an extremely long period of time.”

Kershaw says it could take two or three years for some biodegradable plastics to disintegrate.

“Essentially the ocean is being used as a waste basket and the waste basket is getting fuller and fuller, and so the impacts of that plastic litter are just going to keep on increasing.”

Forget recycling 

The report says biodegradable plastic also poses a problem for recycling.

“If you’re recycling plastic you don’t want to have anything to do with biodegradable plastics,” Kershaw says. “Because if you mix biodegradable with standard plastics you can compromise the properties of the original plastic.”   

He says even when biodegradable plastic does disintegrate, the fragments can pose a threat to ocean life.

“Each of those fragments then behaves exactly the same way as a standard piece of polyethylene,” adds Kershaw.

“The objects may disintegrate, but you’re still left with an awful lot of microplastics and those have their own problems in terms of impact on the environment.”

Some evidence also suggests that labelling products as ‘biodegradable’ increases people’s tendency to litter because they think they are not creating waste.

Arctic ice compounds the issue

Plastic distributes toxic chemicals throughout Canada’s oceans, says David Miller, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

“It can have an impact on all sorts of marine life, from marine mammals to corals, and of course it can get ingested and become part of the food chain,” said Miller.

In the Arctic, ice compounds the issue.

“In the Arctic, because the ice traps them, the abundance of microplastics are at least three times more than in other areas in oceans, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is THE concentration of plastics.”

Miller says a lot of the plastic that WWF-Canada finds on shorelines is from everyday waste, such as grocery bags, food wrappers and water bottles.

“What we can do, each of us, is dramatically reduce the amount of plastic we use; the second thing is to dispose of it properly,” said Miller.

He adds that the good news is that more and more organizations are getting involved in clean up efforts to help restore our coastlines, such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Iqaluit this past June.



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