Microplastics are harmful to animals: here’s what we can do!

Today is World Animal Day!

Plastic is the most common type of marine debris found in the Indian Ocean. Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, but those that are less than five millimetres in length are called “microplastics”. These can be harmful to oceans and aquatic life. The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics are the ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles mistake plastic waste for prey and most die of starvation as their stomachs get filled with plastic debris. They also suffer from cuts, infections, and internal injuries and have problems in swimming. Floating plastics also contribute to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria, and that may disrupt the ecosystems.

We know plastic is harming marine life. What about us?

Invisible plastic has been identified in tap water, salt, and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. Several chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are known to be carcinogenic and interfere with different systems of the human and animal bodies. In Sri Lanka, major rubble in the beaches comes from the mouths of rivers. But where do the rivers collect these? It is all due to human activities, including dumping garbage into rivers.

 Fast facts

  • Over 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications
  • At least 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, and make up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments
  • Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and deaths
  • Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change
  • There is an urgent need to explore the use of existing legally binding international agreements to address marine plastic pollution
  • Recycling and reuse of plastic products, and support for research and innovation to develop new products to replace single-use plastics are also necessary to prevent and reduce plastic pollution

What can we do to arrest this distressing trend?

Each one of us must accept that we are all responsible for having squandered our natural wealth. So, the change must come from within ourselves.

We have to look hard and deep at our daily lives and see whether we are:

  • Using too many natural resources y Destroying or degrading natural habitats
  • Polluting the air, poisoning the waters, and leaving our trash behind
  • Introducing invasive alien species into this country
  • Contributing to climate change

(Special thanks to conservation biologist Dr. Sriyanie Miththapala)