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New Report Highlights the Plastics Crisis in our Oceans

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Courtesy Oceana
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Sea Turtle on a Polluted Beach

Oceana reveals for the first time the available data on marine mammals and sea turtles swallowing or becoming entangled in plastic in U.S. waters.

Anyone who has spent time on Florida's shores knows how disturbing a floating piece of plastic garbage on an otherwise pristine beach can be.

A new report from Oceana, provides an even deeper understanding of what all that plastic waste is doing to our marine friends.

According to Oceana:

  • Most of the species that consumed or became entangled in plastic are endangered or threatened, including Hawaiian monk seals, manatees, Steller sea lions and all six species of U.S. sea turtle.
  • In cases where plastic ingestion was the likely cause of mortality or a contributing factor in death, seven involved just one piece of plastic.
  • Bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting and food wrappers were the most common types of identifiable plastics consumed by these animals.
  • Plastic packing straps, bags, balloons with strings and sheeting were the most common items entangling the animals.
  • Some sea turtle groups consumed plastic up to three times more often than average for their species.
  • Some marine mammals, such as the northern fur seal, consumed plastic up to 50 times more often than average for eared seals.
  • Additional items involving entanglement or ingestion included bottle caps, water bottles, straws, plastic chairs, plastic forks, toothbrushes, children’s toys, buckets, bubble wrap, sponges, swim goggles, plastic holiday grass, sandwich bags and polystyrene cups.
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Courtesy Oceana

The report features case studies from around the U.S., including:

  • In Florida, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was found entangled in a plastic bag that had become filled with sand. The plastic bag had wrapped around the animal’s neck and scientists believe the turtle drowned due to the weight of the bag or suffocated from the entanglement.
  • A Florida manatee likely died from the plastic bag, straw, string, pantyhose and fishing line filling its stomach and colon.
  • In Virginia, a female Sei whale swallowed a DVD case, which lacerated her stomach and led to gastric ulcers, harming her ability to find food.
  • In New Jersey, a plastic bag was the only item found in the stomach of a dead Pygmy Sperm whale.
  • In California, a Northern Elephant seal nursing a dependent pup was found with a packing strap around her neck.
  • In South Carolina, a sea turtle center found almost 60 pieces of plastic that a Loggerhead sea turtle defecated during its rehabilitation.

One problem is that people have a hard time visualizing a world without plastic. Another issue is that oil and gas industry interests are hedging their bets by fueling a single-use plastic frenzy. Plastic is a fossil fuel product, and it's in much more than beach toys, It's in your clothing and even in your drinking water.

So what can be done?

Awareness is a good first place to start, and demanding political leaders take action is a smart move to. There's only so much consumers can do, and if you're overwhelmed or can't imagine how you would eliminate most of the plastic from your life, there's a reason for that. The problem of plastic needs to be addressed at the source.

To learn more about Oceana and plastics, visit
usa.oceana.org/plastics

Choked, Strangled, Drowned: The Plastics Crisis Unfolding in U.S. Waters