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How Do Plastic Impact Wildlife Health?

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Author: Hai Le

Updated on September 14, 2023 • Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Our planet is currently fighting against plastic pollution that exists everywhere, from the deepest ocean trenches to the highest mountaintops. Plastic is suffocating our planet so much that scientists have predicted by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish (by weight).

Have you ever stopped and wondered how all this plastic impacts wildlife health?

Plastic pollution can have a deadly effect on wildlife in a number of ways, but before we can solve a problem, we must first be aware that the problem exists. So that is why in today's blog, I want to show you how plastic has a deadly effect on wildlife health and give you another reason to reduce your plastic consumption.

How Animals Mistake Plastic For Food?

One of the most common and tragic ways that plastic pollution harms wildlife is through ingestion. Animals often mistake plastic debris, such as plastic bags, bottles, and straws for food and eat them, which can lead to choking, blockage of the digestive system, and even death.

Fun Fact: According to The New York Times, studies suggest that some marine animals don't just accidentally eat plastic, but they seek it out. That is because plastic can absorb aquatic odors, making them smell uncannily like food to some fish and bird species.

Plastic can break down into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, which can be ingested by animals of all sizes. Microplastics can also release harmful chemicals that cause reproductive problems or damage an animal's organs and tissues.

Another Fun Fact: Research from Plymouth University found that more than 90% of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomach. And according to Greenpeace, more than one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually by plastic in our oceans.

Summary: For wildlife such as fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, plastic is a deadly hazard as they often mistake it for food. When animals ingest plastic or microplastics, it take up space in the digestive system, leading to reduced feeding signals or death.

A penguin trapped in plastic net - Ecopify

How Animals Entangled In Plastic?

In addition to ingestion, plastic pollution can also harm wildlife through entanglement. This often happens when animals try to swim through plastic debris or fishing nets, which can then wrap around their bodies. Other marine animals like sea lions and sea turtles get entangled in plastic while trying to lay on the beach.

Fun Fact: Abandoned objects such as fishing gear, rope, or commercial gear can also find their way into the marine environment. Causing the death of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals and sea turtles.

Entanglement can have several negative consequences for wildlife because those entangled animals may run out of air (drown) or starve to death due to the restriction of their movement.

While smaller marine animals may drown or die immediately if the gear landing on them is too large. Giant marine animals sometimes get injured and suffer from the fishing gear cutting into their flesh. If you see an animal that appears entangled, you can contact your local responders via the national entanglement response and stranding network for immediate help.

Summary: Animals can become entangled in plastic debris or fishing nets, which can lead to drowning, starving, or choke to death due to the injury and restriction of their movement. Marine mammals don't understand the dangers that plastics pose to them. This problem was created by humans, and only humans can fix it.

Plastic pollute the water of this small town

Toxic Chemicals & Habitat Destruction

Plastic pollution doesn't just threaten wildlife through physical ingestion or entanglement either. Plastic pollution can also harm wildlife through exposure to harmful chemicals and habitat destruction.

Some plastics contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the environment. These chemicals can damage an animal's immune system, reproductive system, and other organs when ingested or come into contact with their skin.

Some of the most harmful chemicals found in plastic include Bisphenol A (BPA), Phthalates, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).

And of course, plastic pollution can also destroy natural habitats and ecosystems, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds. This can make it difficult for animals to find food and shelter.

Fun Fact: A study released in the journal Communications Biology found that plastic in the oceans also harms Prochlorococcus, the marine bacteria responsible for producing 10 percent of the world's oxygen.

Summary: Plastic pollution can harm wildlife in more ways than just ingestion and entanglement. It can also destroy their homes and expose them to harmful chemicals that can damage their immune system, reproductive system, and other organs.

Quick Takeaway

Plastic pollution is a global crisis that is having a devastating impact on wildlife health. Every year, millions of animals die from:

  • Ingest Plastic: This can lead to choking, blockage of the digestive system, and even death.
  • Entangled In Plastic: This can lead to drowning, starvation, injury, or even immediate death.
  • Being Harmed By The Chemicals Plastic Releases: This can damage their immune system, reproductive system, and other organs.
  • Losing Natual Habitats: This makes it difficult for animals to find food and shelter.

Last Fun Fact: Plastic toothbrush is one of the top contributors to plastic waste in our oceans today, about 4.7 million toothbrushes end up in our oceans every single year.

In summary, marine mammals don't understand the dangers that plastics pose to them. This problem was created by humans, and only humans can fix it.

Frequently Asked Questions Relate To This Blog:

Question #1: How plastic pollution enter the food chain?

Answer: Plastic pollution can enter the food chain in a number of ways, one of which is direct ingestion. Animals often mistake plastic for food and eat it directly. This can have a number of negative effects on animals and human health.

Question #2: How do these chemicals affect the health of wildlife?

Answer: Some of the health problems that can be caused by chemicals from plastic pollution are cancer, reproductive, growth and development problems.

Question #3: How does plastic pollution impact wildlife behavior?

Answer: The impact of plastic pollution on wildlife behavior can vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of plastic, the amount of plastic ingested, and the individual animal's health. However, plastic pollution is a serious threat to wildlife, and it is important to reduce our plastics consumption and to properly dispose of plastic waste.

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