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Where Does Plastic Accumulate In Our Ocean?

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Author: Hai Le

Updated on July 26, 2023 • Estimated read time: 7 minutes

According to Our World In Data, the world now produces more than 380 million tonnes of plastic every year. Have you ever wondered where all those plastic goes? Of course, not all of our plastic waste ends up in the ocean, but every day, around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into our oceans.

Plastic waste is a major problem, which causes devastating consequences. According to Greenpeace, more than one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals lose their lives annually due to plastics in our oceans.

In this blog post, we will dive into the world of plastic accumulation in our ocean. Not only will we explore where all the plastic gathers, but we will also investigate the contributing factors behind its existence and the impact of plastic pollution has on marine life.

Plastic Accumulate In Coastal Areas 

Plastic debris is often washed up on beaches and shorelines and serves as a visible indicator of the plastic pollution problem. Plastic waste, ranging from small fragments to more oversized items, can be found littered along the coastlines worldwide.

The factors that contribute to plastic accumulation in coastal areas include:

  1. The tides and waves wash plastic debris onto beaches.
  2. Human activities, such as littering, also contribute to plastic accumulation in coastal areas.

Summary: The majority of ocean plastics are washed, buried, and resurfaced along our shorelines. These accumulations not only harm the aesthetic beauty of our beaches but also pose risks to marine life through ingestion and entanglement.

A blue map of 5 major ocean gyres - Ecopify

Plastic Accumulate In Ocean Gyres

So, what is ocean gyres? They are large, circular currents that circulate and flow around the world's oceans. One notable aspect of ocean gyres is their ability to trap and accumulate debris, including plastic waste. Due to their circular flow, plastic debris and other floating materials tend to gather in the center of these gyres, forming large areas known as garbage patches.

The factors that contribute to plastic accumulation in ocean gyres include:

  1. Currents in the gyres create a swirling vortex that traps plastic debris, making it difficult for the plastic to escape.
  2. The sun and waves break down the plastic waste into smaller and smaller pieces, which can make it even harder to clean up.
  3. The currents transport the plastic debris over long distances, allowing it to accumulate in these specific regions.

The most infamous of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. It is an enormous area where plastic debris concentrates due to ocean currents, forming a large, floating garbage patch. (The patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas)

Apart from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there are other garbage patches and accumulation zones worldwide. The Atlantic Ocean Garbage PatchIndian Ocean Garbage PatchSouth Pacific Garbage PatchNorth Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, and South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre are areas where plastic waste accumulates due to oceanic currents and winds.

Summary: Ocean gyres are large rotating currents that circulate around the world's oceans, and they have a unique ability to trap and accumulate debris, including plastic waste. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most well-known example of an ocean gyre. It is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

Plastic waste accumulate in the seafloor - Ecopify

Plastic Accumulate In The Seafloor

Plastic waste doesn't just float on the ocean's surface, it can also sink to the bottom of the seafloor, but how does plastic end up on the seafloor? Well, Here are some of the factors that contribute to plastic accumulation in the seafloor:

  1. The plastic debris is carried down to the seafloor by currents and waves.
  2. The plastic debris sinks to the seafloor due to its density.

This plastic mess is dangerous for the creatures that live down there. Animals that eat food from the seafloor might accidentally munch on these plastic pieces, which can take up space in the gut and digestive system, leading to reductions in feeding signals. Additionally, animals can get tangled in the plastic mess too.

Summary: Plastic can be deep down in the seafloor by sinking and become a problem for marine life. Animals often mistake plastic for food, which can lead to severe health consequences.

Plastic waste accumulate near freshwater ecosystems - Ecopify

Plastic Accumulate In Freshwater Ecosystems

Plastic pollution isn't just a problem in the oceans; it can also sneak its way into freshwater ecosystems like lakes and rivers. You might wonder, how does plastic end up in these places too?

Well, here's what happens:

  1. Coastal areas near crowded cities often have a lot of plastic waste because of inadequate waste management systems, and direct littering.
  2. Rivers are like roads for plastic waste. They carry the plastic from inland areas all the way to the ocean. So, the rivers and the spots where they meet the ocean, called river mouths, become places where plastic gathers a lot.

Summary: Plastic sneaks its way into everywhere, which mean they can also enter our freshwater ecosystems, such as lakes and rivers. This can have a negative impact on fish and other aquatic animals.

Fish swimming with plastic pollution in ocean

The Impact Of Plastic Pollution On Marine Life

The accumulation of plastic in our oceans has a devastating impact on marine life, according to The New York Times, some marine animals don't just accidentally eat plastic, but they actively seek it out. This happens because plastic absorbs aquatic odors over time, making them smell remarkably similar to food for some fish and bird species.

But the sad thing is that when these animals eat plastic instead of real food, they also get a dose of chemicals such as PCBs and heavy metals that the plastic absorbs from the environment.

Let's take a look at some of the marine creatures affected by plastic:

  • Sea turtles: Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, their prey. This can lead to the turtles becoming entangled in the bags and suffocating.
  • Whales: Whales can ingest plastic debris, which can block their digestive systems and lead to starvation.
  • Fish: Fish can also ingest plastic debris, which can harm their health and reproduction.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is causing big problems for marine life, disrupting the delicate balance of the marine food chain and posing a threat to endangered species.

So what can we do to help?

There are many things that you can do to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans.

Here are a few tips:

  • Reducing Plastic Consumption: Choose reusable alternatives version for plastic bags, water bottles, and straws to reduce single-use plastic.
  • Recycle Plastic Whenever Possible: Support recycling initiatives and dispose of plastic waste responsibly. This will help to keep plastic out of our oceans.
  • Support Businesses That Are Committed To Reducing Plastic Pollution: This will send a message that there is a demand for sustainable products.
  • Switching To Bamboo Toothbrush: Plastic toothbrushes are one of the top plastic pollutants in our ocean. About 5 billion plastic toothbrushes are being thrown away every year, and almost all of them are unrecyclable.

By taking these steps, we can all help to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans and protect marine life.

Summary: Plastic pollution is hurting marine life in our oceans. Some animals are even mistaking plastic for food, while other are entangle in them. But we can help by using less plastic, recycling, and supporting sustainable products. Even switching to bamboo toothbrushes can make a huge difference!

Quick Takeaway

There are three main areas where plastic accumulates in our ocean:

  • Coastal Areas: The majority of ocean plastics are washed, buried, and resurfaced along our shorelines.
  • Ocean Gyres: These are large rotating currents that circulate around the world's oceans, and they have a unique ability to trap and accumulate debris, including plastic waste.
  • The Seafloor: Plastic waste doesn't just float on the ocean's surface, it can also sink to the bottom of the seafloor.

Frequently Asked Questions Relate To This Blog:

Question #1: How does plastic wastes get into our ocean?

Answer: Plastic can get into the ocean in a number of ways, they can be washed into the ocean from rivers, streams, and beaches. Or got blown into the ocean from the air.

Question #2: What are the five major ocean gyres?

Answer: The five major ocean gyres are the North Atlantic Gyre, South Atlantic Gyre, North Pacific Gyre, South Pacific Gyre and the Indian Ocean Gyre. These gyres are large rotating currents that collect plastic debris, as well as other materials in the center.

Question #3: What are the impacts of plastic accumulation in our ocean?

Answer: Plastic can pollute the marine environment by releasing harmful chemicals into the water. These chemicals can harm and contaminate marine life. And worst, animals can mistake plastic for food and eat it.

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