During the first week of summer break, my family and I went to a beach. At the beach, there were many seagulls. Since we had a lot of food, these seagulls approached us multiple times. They had a pattern of coming closer, waiting, and coming closer.
If you ran or walked toward them aggressively, they would fly away. Many people are fine with feeding seagulls a little bit of food. However, you are not supposed to feed seagulls biscuits or snacks. Seagulls naturally eat seafood like fish, crabs, and mollusks, but will suffer nutritional deficiencies if you give them bread or chips. Seagulls will also get aggressive if they have young chicks that they need to protect. When seagulls killed dogs in London 3 years ago, they weren’t attacking the dogs for food, they were just trying to protect their young. When on a beach with seagulls, don’t offer them food or try to be aggressive toward them, or they can pose some danger to you.
Humans don’t just annoy birds by going to the beach and eating food. A lot of people carelessly leave plastic bags that contained food, Plastics are very harmful for birds because they can mistake it for food and eat it, causing them to die. A study done in Midway atoll (A ring shaped reef that lies in the north part of the Pacific) that 40% of the Laysan Albatross chicks die before they were able to fly. Most of these chicks had plastic in their stomachs, which was detrimental to their health since it couldn’t be digested and clogged the digestive system.
A lot of other species are also affected by debris, such as plastic grocery bags which are thrown into the sea. This includes animals that are very small, like anchovies and shrimp, to larger animals like seals. In most cases, these animals thought that the plastic was food, and were fooled into thinking it was food due to a similar smell or shape to the animal’s food. For example, turtles are fooled by plastic bags that look like jellyfish to them.
Animals in the ocean can also be smothered by large plastic bags, or entangled by fishing nets. These animals suffer a painful and slow death. Some animals, like whales, aren’t even aware that they are snagging plastic, like how someone wouldn’t be aware if their coat snagged on someone else’s backpack.
Once an animal is killed by debris, the plastic doesn’t simply go away. In the best case, the dead animals washes up on shore and is found by humans who can take the plastic out. Usually, the plastic drifts through the ocean until another sea creature ingests it. Plastic takes a very long time to degrade, anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of years.
Plastic also threaten food webs in the sea. Anchovies, a popular pizza topping, could potentially be toxic for animals that eat it. This is because anchovies are eating small plastic pellets that make up bigger plastic products. They are also added to makeup and some types of toothpaste These plastic pellets are formed when waves and sunlight break up larger plastic products. The pellets are tiny, as they are 5 milliliters in volume, and invade the ocean. They are spread to different areas by anchovies that eat them, and are in turn eaten by bigger fish in the deep sea. This spreads the area of toxicity in bodies of water and also endangers humans that eat anchovy.
Another way plastic is affecting the ocean is clogging large spaces by clumping together in large patches and floating on the ocean. The largest of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), which weighs 79 tons and is located between California and Hawaii. A recent study shows that the GPGP is growing exponentially, and is now 3 times the size of France. Eventually this plastic will reach the Americas. This floating patch contains a wide range of toxic plastic, from tiny pellets to large, discarded fishing nets.
Many lawmakers around the world are noticing the harmful effects of plastic in the ocean and the risk it poses to humans. In Mumbai, plastic bags have been banned. Inspectors in navy blue jackets have been posted around the city to catch businesses and people still using plastic bags. First time offenders will be fined 5,000 rupees, and repeat offenders face a fine of up to 25,000 rupees and jail time. In Australia, plastic bags have been banned since 2011. Only a handful of countries and cities have banned plastic bags, due to the public uproar it has caused.
It’s pretty easy to not contribute to plastic in the ocean. You can reuse plastic grocery bags to hold things when you’re going somewhere, or simply use reusable, biodegradable paper bags. You
can recycle plastic, and can pick up after yourself when you go to the beach. It’s mainly about stopping plastic from entering landfills and the ocean.