Published in Customs Today Report February 21, 2015
MEXICO: According to a new study thousands of individual animals from
hundreds of marine species including every kind of sea turtle and around
half of marine mammals have encountered plastic, glass, and other
garbage in the ocean.
Often the encounters are fatal. In some cases they may be helping push some beleaguered species towards extinction in the wild.
Those are some of the findings in the most comprehensive look at the
effects of debris on marine wildlife since 1997. Co-authors Sarah Gall
and Richard Thompson, marine biologists at Plymouth University in the
United Kingdom, looked in 340 different publications for reports about
animal encounters with marine trash.
They found that 693 species of
marine animals had some sort of interaction with human-made debris, with
17 percent of them listed with some degree of vulnerability to
extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red
Sometimes these encounters involved glass, metal, or paper. But plastic
surged past those materials as a hazard to ocean wildlife, turning up in
almost 92 percent of animal-meets-marine debris reports, according to
the study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
All together there were 44,006 incidents of individual animals, across
395 species, that had eaten plastic bits or been tangled in plastic rope
Around 80 percent of the time, these encounters injured or killed the animal.
There were reports of 138 hawksbill turtles, 73 Kemp’s Ridley turtles,
and 62 leatherback sea turtles tangled in plastic. All three are listed
as critically endangered—one step below extinct in the wild—on the IUCN
Marine mammals as a group proved especially vulnerable to marine plastic
debris, with 30,896 of the reports involving these animals tangled in
ropes or netting. They included 215 Hawaiian monk seals, a critically
endangered species, and 38 endangered northern right whales, as well as
3,835 northern fur seals and 3,587 California sea lions.
Among seabirds, Gall and Thompson found 174 records of individual birds
from over 150 species being tangled in or eating plastic. They included
3,444 northern fulmars 1,674 Atlantic puffins, 971 Laysan albatross, and
895 greater shearwaters.