By RJ Winberg
We hear a lot about how plastic pollution in the ocean harms wildlife and the overall environment. But I think it's important to make sure we also focus on how it hurts people as well, and how the fight against pollution is also a fight for human health. We all live on this rock together.
We have come a long way over the centuries, but as the world's population grows it creates more and more garbage, much of which can take centuries to decompose (if it decomposes at all). A lot of this garbage ends up in the ocean where larger pieces end up strangling marine wildlife to death. But it doesn't stop there. Plastic in the ocean eventually breaks apart into smaller pieces, which makes it more pervasive, as small fish and other creatures end up eating it.
It has long been known that chemicals and pollutants move up the food chain. Mercury, for example, is much more potent in larger fish because they feed on the smaller fish. Check out the diagram below.
Basically a fish that eats fish will gather mercury in its system at a much faster pace because everyday it is eating the entire amount of mercury that each one of these unfortunate smaller fish has spent its life (until now) storing up. The same thing goes for plastic.
There was a study done a few years ago on this. The researchers ran a split test where they fed three different diets to three different groups of fish: No-plastic diet, clean-plastic diet, and ocean-plastic diet. What they found was that when plastic sits in the ocean it absorbs all kinds of chemicals, oils, and other pollutants. This plastic then gets eaten and digested by small fish, which get eaten by bigger fish, which get eaten by human beings (us). The study found that the ocean-plastic fed fish (like the wild ones in the ocean) were much more likely to have high levels of various chemicals, and often developed tumors or liver problems.
This is particularly disturbing when you think about how much seafood we eat. Not to mention how much tuna, in particular, we eat. As one of the largest fish, tuna has a very high concentration of... well, whatever the smaller fish have in their flesh.
Many people don't always think about the environment this way. They think of it as this other entity, something that we care about because of our goodwill, or pity. But the truth is that we are part of the environment, and as long as we continue to poison our oceans we will continue poisoning ourselves and each other as well.