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Oceana Shows The Impact Plastic Waste Is Having On Animals

Gray Seal Entangled In Plastic Bag
New York Marine Rescue Center, Riverhead NY via Oceana
Oceana reports that marine mammals like this gray seal are getting tangled in plastic waste.

Nearly 40 different species of animals have swallowed or become entangled in plastic, according to a new study.

Non-profit ocean conservation organization Oceana has issued a report showing the impact of plastic waste on marine mammals and sea turtles.

Sea turtles, manatees, and seals are just a few of the animals affected by the plastic waste that is polluting the oceans.

According to officials, nearly 40 different species in the U.S. were found to have swallowed or become entangled in plastic since 2009. Over 88% of those species were listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“We have six species of sea turtles that swim in U.S. water and every single representative of those species were calculated in our report,” said Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana. “There's also large whales, sea lions, and other kinds of marine mammals that we found that were affected by plastic in our oceans.”

Sea Turtle With Balloon Ribbon
Sea Turtle With Balloon Ribbon - Clearwater Marine Aquarium via Oceana
Clearwater Marine Aquarium via Oceana

Bags, balloons with strings, and plastic sheeting are a few of the most common types of plastic endangering animals, according to the research.

According to Warner, animals mistake the plastic for food, leading them to ingest the waste.

“We know bags resemble jellyfish to some species of sea turtles and they think that's why they eat it,” she said. “Sometimes plastic can become fouled with other types of life like microbes or small organisms that make the plastics smell like their natural food.”

Other ingestions might be an accident as animals are diving to get food or swimming to the surface with their mouth open.

“They end up taking in a lot of plastic because there's a lot of plastic in the ocean,” Warner said.

Plastic Bottle Floating Above Sea Grass
Just One Ocean CEO David Jones via Oceana
Just One Ocean CEO David Jones via Oceana

Oceana listed additional items that were found that were involved in entanglement and ingestion: bottle caps, water bottles, straws, plastic utensils, children’s toys, and bubble wrap.

“Whatever problems we are tabulating right now are only going to get worse in the future, unless we do actions right now to limit production and use of single use plastic,” said Warner.

As the amount of plastic waste continues to grow, Warner hopes that people will take steps to put an end to it.

“[People] should contact their local and state representatives to pass strong limits on uses of bags, straws, styrofoam, and other things that can easily get in to the waterways, coasts, and coastal environments,” she said.

Courtney Holland is the WUSF radio news intern for the fall of 2020.
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