Mohammed Rashid Al-Sulaiti: Oceans cover about 70% of the earth and support a variety of marine life. Due to anthropogenic activities, oceans expose to a real danger which threatens the health of marine environment. The ethical responsibility in this issue lies on conserving the marine life for its vital importance in our food chain. Many concerns are being raised in terms of what are the destructive habits being practiced in oceans and which in its role led to severe consequences including over-fishing, ocean acidification, climate change and plastic waste. The last has raised many concerns lately whereas it became rampant phenomenon since the last century.
As per article published by BBC that the problem has begun around 70 years ago when the plastic industries has largely increased. It was unimaginable that those industries will end to non-biogradable waste in oceans. The total plastic produced since its start-up is 8.3 billion tons, of which 6.3 tons are form of waste, 79% are buried in the ground. The huge amount of plastic waste is a product of a modern life started from the last century — with appearance of globalization concept and absence of responsibility sense - in which plastic is used in disposable products including: drinking bottles, plastic toys and food tools.
Scientifically and in laboratories, plastic can be seen from microscopes as chemical bonds that make atoms of their molecules linked to their ways more complex than organic matter.
The scientific fact hides behind that the decomposition of a single plastic bottle takes up to 450 years, whereas the plastic decay falls under non-biological decomposition, which it is known to take longer time than the biological decomposition, as it does not decompose by the action of bacteria.
Plastic bottles are the most common form of plastic waste, it is estimated that around 480 billion bottles were sold around the world in 2016, at a rate of 1 million bottles per minute, according to study.
Plastic waste accumulates in various areas of the ocean, and by the action of wind currents called circular vortices, plastic waste floats on the water surface. The nature of plastic waste lies on its concentration in one area, for example plastic waste is more concentrated in ocean vortices than any other parts of ocean. It shapes as residues made up of small pieces of plastic that remain trapped beneath the surface of the water.
However, due to the durable nature of most plastic, some materials take very long period time to decompose which makes it inevitable danger for the marine life.
Lisa Syensson the director of ocean at the UN Environment warns that the problem, which concerns the entire planet, threatens to destroy ocean’s ecosystem. She said: “Governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution”. She added: “In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.”
The article also shows that around 10 million tons of plastic to end up in the ocean floor each year. In 2010, a group of scientists estimated the amount of plastic waste in the oceans to be around 8 million tons and expected to rise to 13 million tons by 2050. Oceanographer Erik van Sebille, who works at Imperial College London and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, has shown that due to strong ocean streams known as gyres, huge amounts of plastic end up in patches around the world, the largest one being in the north Pacific.
Concerns were raised around where these plastic waste end to, and the answer comes to disappoint everyone lives on this planet that plastic waste ends to our food chain. A lot of plastic debris in the ocean breaks down into smaller pieces and ingested by marine life.
There is inevitable danger for sea birds and larger marine creatures like turtles, dolphins and seals, the danger comes from being entangled in plastic bags and other debris, or mistaking plastic for food. Some of these creatures cannot distinguish between plastic waste and their own food, as a result, they will start to ingest plastic bags which lead to internal blockages and consequently result in death.
The effects on human of eating fish containing plastic is largely unknown. However, in 2016 the European Food Safety Authority warned of increased risk to human health and food safety “given the potential for micro-plastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish”. Such phrases have to be taken seriously, as different studies have previously been concluded that there is a clear relationship between cancers and specific types of plastic.
In conclusion, marine environment risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste. We have seen that plastic waste is inevitable danger threatens marine creature, and there is an explicit potential that danger extends to food chain. Britain, for example, is developing free drinking facilities in major cities. Also, Starbucks announce that they are removing straws globally by 2020 reducing more than 1 billion straws per year. In fact, it has amazed me when I wrote this article that in the Port of Amsterdam, a new factory is being built that could revolutionize the way we dispose of plastic waste. Utilizing groundbreaking technology, the facility will use previously unrecyclable plastic to create fuel for diesel powered cargo ships.
Although there are commendable endeavors to mitigate the risk of plastic overconsumption, it remains only a monocular initiative. Finally, many questions remain unanswered: To what extent we as nations are responsible for the ongoing crises? Between producers and consumer under who the ethical responsibility mostly falls? To what extent we have to take a serious-global action to step down plastic waste in oceans?
The writer is Environmental Scientist graduated from the University of Nottingham. – The Peninsula Qatar