Plastic spells deep trouble for marine life

 

Sir, – Our society has an addiction to single-use plastic. It is an integral part of our daily life, from making our cup of coffee in the morning, to having a sandwich at lunch, to our takeaway for dinner. Using plastic makes our lives easier and goods cheaper. Between 1964 and 2014 global plastic production increased 20-fold from 15 million tonnes to 311 million tonnes. However, plastic significantly contributes to the amount we waste, with plastic pollution consistently increasing in the last 20 years.

We have all seen the news articles about the use of plastic and the effects it has on the environment, be it plastic bags inside the stomach of a whale in Norway, micro-beads being swallowed by fish, or a straw being removed from the nostril of a sea turtle.

Recent research conducted by researchers in NUI Galway into plastic pollution in the Atlantic found that over 70 per cent of deep-sea fish had ingested plastic, and the plastics identified closely overlapped with those sampled from the surface water (Kevin O’Sullivan, “Over 70% per cent of deep-sea fish have ingested plastic, study finds” News, February 19th).

Not only is this worrying for the health of the fish ingesting such plastics, which has been shown to have an adverse impact on feeding habits and organ function, but also the effects that ingesting plastics will have on the entire ecosystem.

The fish that were studied inhabit intermediate depths of the sea, usually between 200 and 1,000 metres below sea level, and are an important food source for dolphins, seals, and tuna, as well as sea-birds.

Some of these species are commercially exploited fish and thus the transfer of micro-plastics and toxins may also pose a threat to human health.

These fish have an important role in the carbon and nutrient cycles, transferring organic material to deeper levels of the sea and other environments. It has been found that they may aid in the downward transport of micro-plastics, with the potential harm to organisms in this habitat, further increasing the levels of plastic infiltration in the ecosystem.

How many more studies need to be conducted before we wake up to the reality that is floating around us? How many photos and news articles do we need to look at and read before we realise the effects of our wasteful existence, and how long before we actively make a change? – Yours, etc,

RACHEL WOODS,

Bangor, Co Down.