Written by Agastya Sharma, a grade 8 student (junior editor at I Kid You Not)
Plastic pollution is one of the greatest environmental problems humans have faced this past century, and with every day, the amount of pollution increases exponentially. Then why have studies shown that the plastic in the oceans is disappearing? Well, here I am to tell you all about it.
What is happening?
Roughly eight million tons of plastic end up swimming in our oceans each year. A lot of this we see washing up on our beaches, some continue floating, and a vast majority of it sinks deep below the surface. All this plastic has been very damaging to the environment, with fish essential to the ecosystem dying of plastic consumption, whales and sharks getting caught in large plastic nets, and so much more. But scientists now don’t worry about the abundance of plastic in the oceans. For them, the more apparent problem is why plastic seems to be disappearing. This is because of gyres.
Gyres are oceanic currents, usually circulating, that form a small whirlpool due to wind movements and the forces of the Earth. For the past few decades, the large amounts of plastic thrown into the oceans have made their way to these gyres, forming what we know now as garbage patches. There are five major garbage patches in the world: North Pacific (also known as Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest), South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Ocean Garbage Patch.
Each of these patches is rapidly growing in size because of the massive decrease of plastic in waste collection systems. According to scientists, the plastic we see on the surface of the sea, and on beaches, is roughly only 1% of the plastic in oceans today, and that number is growing daily. Studies show that the maps of the ocean we have, barely cover the ocean gyres, and we are completely in the dark about the pollution below the surface.
As expected, that much plastic could not possibly be good for the environment, and here’s why.
The loss of marine life is one of the greatest problems posed by plastic pollution, but that’s only one aspect of it. If fish consume the plastic we throw into oceans, that would indirectly be extremely harmful to human life as well. How you ask? As we know, seafood is famous universally throughout the coasts of the world. And if the plastic has been consumed by something lower down the food chain, well, that doesn’t end well for us.
Another major problem is photodegradation. Photo (meaning light) and degradation (alteration), which makes it alteration of things by light. All of you must have heard of biodegradation, the process of materials being broken down by worms and insects. It’s the same thing, but since plastic isn’t biodegradable, it’s broken down by light. And this process takes hundreds of years to complete, making the plastic pile up with no end in sight. Although, when it does eventually degrade, it gets broken down into the chemicals used to make it, making it undetectable. It practically dissolves into the ocean, which is much worse.
According to studies, there are 15 pieces of plastic for every litre at a depth of 200 metres inside the oceans. And there’s a whole lot more in the microplastic form, bits of plastic under the length of 2mm or less. Nearly 200 million tons of plastic is estimated to be found at the ocean’s bed, which has been depositing there since 1950, and even more, can be found in the water column’s lower parts in the form of dust.
We as humans, in our race for industrialization, modernization, and so-called progress, have forgotten our roots. We have polluted the planet we strive to live on, and now are scrambling to save what we should have protected. We must work together, and save our planet.
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