Plastic in the oceans

Some weeks ago, we spent a night in Parangtritis. It was pouring down that night. When we woke up, the clouds were gone, but the beach looked like a dump-site. The waste that people upriver in Yogyakarta had thrown into the rivers had been swept into the ocean and part of it was being washed ashore by the waves.

Globally, 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually flows into the oceans. This means that every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is “thrown” into the seas. If this continues, this could mean that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.


Just the tip of the iceberg

Most of the plastic in the oceans is not washed back to the shore, but creates gigantic garbage swirls. In the midst of the ocean you will find huge circular sea currents, which absorb the plastic waste and rotate it constantly. The most famous garbage swirl is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the North Pacific, which is growing every year. It has reached the size of Kalimantan and Sumatra combined.

In every km2 of the ocean, you can find up to 46,000 pieces of plastic waste. The amount of plastic floating at the surface is so big that it can be seen from space – huge garbage „carpets“ that move with the currents. However, the plastics floating at the surface are only the tip of the iceberg. More than 70 percent of the plastic waste sinks to the seabed. Only 15% is washed back to the land. If you visit some beaches in Bali these days it is hard to imagine that it is only that small percentage. There are plastic bags, old plastic shoes and all kinds of waste along the once picture-perfect stretches of sand.


A disastrous fate 

Coastal inhabitants and sea creatures are suffering from the plastic overload. 267 marine species are directly affected by the plastic waste, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. Turtles get trapped in old fishing nets and nylon strings, and they feed on plastic bags, as they confuse them with jellyfish. Toxic additives in the plastic that dissolve into the sea affect the oceans’ flora and fauna. Partly decomposed plastic particles can be found everywhere in our oceans. Fish, shrimp and small organisms such as plankton eat them and so they come back through the food chain to human beings in the end.

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