The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Impacts of Plastic Pollution on Marine Life
The revolution of plastic in the fishing industry has fed billions, but left a paucity of life in the oceans and more suffering than we understand. A lost nylon fishing net or tangled mass of hook and line does not stop fishing, the results are horrifying and solutions hard won.
The big things living in the ocean usually sink when they die, which is why any estimate of ecological impacts, from propeller scars to entanglement in fishing nets, are nearly impossible. They always underestimate the numbers of true deaths and dismemberment. The ones that are still alive near the surface are the messengers. A recent report from scientists studying loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) near the Azores, report gruesome amputations from entanglement and intestinal lesions and bleeding from hooks making their way through their bodies.
So what can fix this?
Lost fishing gear, called ghost nets, are more costly than you might think. Scientist studying the economics of subsidizing recovery of lost nets in Puget Sound reported that the fish and crabs that are caught and die in lost traps and nets was worth more than 12 times the cost of recovery programs. Incentivizing recovery works, but who will pay for it? In Chesapeake Bay researchers have had success with a program to equip crabbers with side-scanning sonar and a grapple hook to snare the hundreds of lost traps that litter the bay. The program works, thanks to taxpayer funds through the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
But in the ocean, where marine mammals and reptiles interact with thousands of tons of plastic waste in international waters, the economic incentives are not there. Voluntary programs for fishermen to bring garbage back from the sea, or report lost gear, are not impactful on a large scale. What is needed are economic incentives, which will largely need to be subsidized by the industries producing the gear in the first place, to create a reward for the return of derelict gear.
A model similar to the plastic bottle redemption program in California would work, where a price-per-pound incentive is responsible for a 72 percent recovery rate for soda bottles. A dollar a pound for lost gear would give fishermen, who are the most likely people to see derelict fishing gear, the incentive to bring it back to land. This kind of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is working for other products in other industries across the globe.
With EPR we will see successful removal of ghost nets and traps. Without EPR, we can expect to see more suffering and dwindling numbers of megafauna in our oceans.
You Might Also Like
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brian Barth
Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn't end when cold weather comes, there's surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you'll be ahead of the game in spring.
By Bailey Hopp
If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.
(R) The measles virus pictured under a microscope. PHIL / CDC
The Pacific Island nation of Samoa declared a state of emergency this week, closed all of its schools and limited the number of public gatherings allowed after a measles outbreak has swept across the country of just 200,000 people, according to Reuters.
By Alison Cagle
Rising above the Arizona desert, the Santa Rita Mountains cradle 10,000 years of Indigenous history. The Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among numerous other tribes, have worshipped, foraged, hunted and laid their ancestors to rest in the mountains for generations.
Native Americans are disproportionately without access to clean water, according to a new report, "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan," to be released this afternoon, which shows that more than two million Americans do not have access to access to running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater services.
By Nanticha Ocharoenchai
In the Czech Republic, horses have become the knights in shining armor. A study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Podyjí National Park could help boost the numbers of several threatened butterfly species.