Trash, especially plastic waste, is a serious concern in the world's oceans. It can be found in varying quantities on the ocean surface and in deep sea sediments. Some estimate as much as 20 million tons of plastic ends up in the world's oceans each year.
Marine species can become entangled in plastic debris and suffocate. Ingestion of the plastics may block digestion and interfere with their ability to feed. Plastics remain in the ecosystem for a long time and not only contain chemicals, but also adsorb other contaminants and accumulate them. As different species of fish ingest the plastic, these contaminants bioaccumulate and may enter the human food supply.
Nonnative species can attach to or get tangled in floating debris and be transported to new areas, as has been witnessed as debris from Japan that was set adrift by the 2011 tsunami washes ashore along the Pacific coastline of North America.
On March 22, 2018, scientists from the Netherlands-based Ocean Cleanup Foundation reported that the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," a plastic debris field in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, had grown to contain 1.8 trillion pieces of trash covering about 618,000 square miles (about four times the size of California) of deep ocean and weighing an estimated 80,000 metric tons. This is about sixteen times more plastic than previously estimated, with pollution levels increasing exponentially. You can learn more about these findings by reading the Ocean Cleanup Foundation's Press Release and the journal article published in Scientific Reports.
With bottles, cans, abandoned or lost fishing gear and other marine debris washing up on our shores each year, the University of Georgia and NOAA have teamed up to create the Marine Debris Tracker app to combat the marine debris problem. This app tracks where marine debris is accumulating and gives anyone with a smart phone an opportunity to be a part of the solution.
Micro-plastic pollution in our oceans is increasingly becoming an issue that all of us must face. As more research is showing, microplastics in the form of synthetic fibers, microbeads from cosmetic products, and raw materials from plastic production are showing up in all levels of the ocean ecosystem from zooplankton to the tissues of fish and on up the food chain. Larger plastic pieces are being found in the stomachs of baleen whales as they swallow sea water with the intention of filtering out krill and fish but unknowingly trap trash as well.