Blog September 2018

How Plastic Kills the Ocean and Impacts Our Food Chain

Posted On: September 05, 2018

Fish and other ocean animals are often found with pieces of plastic in their stomachs, giving the cliché "you are what you eat" a much scarier meaning to people whose dinners include those animals. This Vice News video explores the plastic conditions near the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, which has become a magnet for the ocean's plastic. Plastic from Asia, mainland America, and a lot from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch make its way to this presumably tropical paradise.

A lot of the plastic you see in the video at Kamilo Beach has been circulating in the ocean for a very long time that it actually is broken down into tiny particles or micro-plastics and litters the shoreline. This makes the beach nearly impossible to clean up. The caretakers of the beach come down just about once a week to clean it up. And no matter how good of a job they do, when they come the next time it can be just as bad or even worse.

It is estimated that nearly 700 marine species have encountered man-made debris on the earth. Oceanographer Dr. Anela Choy studies the plastics impact on the entire ocean food chain and spoke to Vice News about her findings. She talks about Lancetfish and how they make for good research subjects when it comes to ocean pollution. This is due to the fact that the fish samples the ocean and can be used to monitor what is happening in the ocean. You can see what they are feeding on due to pieces of plastic they digest.

When asked how out of hand this plastic pollution situation is getting, Choy says, "animals at almost every single trophic level of the food web in the open ocean are ingesting plastics." When pieces of plastic are in the water column, they act as little sponges as they accumulate toxins and then get ingested by animals. And the ocean is the biggest habitat on the planet, so if there's plastic throughout that habitat, it's gonna have some really serious impacts.

Many of the fish species we eat prey on lancetfish, which means the plastic they ingest are moving up the food chains and onto our tables. This is evident from fish distributors who notice these signs, but it is very difficult to do anything at that point. The plastic pollution problem is one of the biggest facing this planet and more needs to be done to change this situation.