The Future of the Sea report, released Wednesday for the UK government, found that human beings across the globe produce more than 300 million metric tons of plastic per year. Unfortunately, a lot of that material ends up in our waters, with the total amount of plastic debris in the sea predicted to increase from 50 million metric tons in 2015 to 150 million metric tons by 2025.
Roughly 70 percent of all marine litter is plastic, and the effect of this non-biodegradable waste can be devastating for marine biodiversity.
"There is extensive evidence that entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics can cause injury and death to a wide range of marine organisms, including commercially important fish and shellfish," the report says.
The report also warns about the prevalence of microplastics and other tiny plastic debris in the ocean. "Plastic does not decompose, instead breaking down into ever smaller pieces," it states. "The full effects are not understood, but there is growing evidence of plastic harming sea creatures and restricting their movement, as well as polluting beaches."
The report was written by scientists to brief government officials on medium and long-term issues of significance, according to BBC News. They warned about the danger of our oceans being "out of sight, out of mind," and pointed out that more is known about space than our seas.
"The ocean is critical to our economic future. Nine billion people will be looking to the ocean for more food. Yet we know so little of what's down there," author Edward Hill from the UK National Oceanography Centre explained to BBC News.
"We invest a lot of money and enthusiasm for missions to space—but there's nothing living out there. The sea bed is teeming with life. We really need a mission to planet ocean—it's the last frontier."
"The ocean is out of sight, out of mind," added Ian Boyd, the chief scientist for the UK government's environment department and another author of the report.
"There's a continuous process of exploring for new things to exploit in the oceans, and that's happening faster than we scientists can keep up with," Boyd said. "My suspicion is legislation is also struggling to keep up—and obviously there are risks in that."
Plastic pollution can also impact human health and wellbeing. Citing a recent EU-wide survey, the Future of the Sea report noted that more than 70 percent of visitors noticed litter on either most or every visit to the coast.
"Coastal plastic litter can also increase the risk of bacterial pathogens such as E. coli," it states.
"Other kinds of pollution pose direct and indirect, via seafood, risks to human health. Marine pollution may also have direct effects on human health, with the consumption of seafood potentially leading to ingestion of hazardous chemicals that have accumulated in the food chain."
To solve this plastic epidemic, the authors suggested solutions that range from preventing plastic from entering the sea, introducing new biodegradable plastics, and campaigns that raise public awareness about marine protection.
The move comes after regional authorities declared a state of emergency over the weekend after sightings of more than 50 bears in the town of Belushya Guba since December.
This year's letter from Bill and Melinda Gates focused on nine things that surprised them. For the Microsoft-cofounder, one thing he was surprised to learn was the massive amount of new buildings the planet should expect in the coming decades due to urban population growth.
"The number of buildings in the world is going to double by 2060. It's like we're going to build a new New York City every month for the next 40 years," he said.
By Shana Udvardy
After a dearth of action on climate change and a record year of extreme events in 2017, the inclusion of climate change policies within the annual legislation Congress considers to outline its defense spending priorities (the National Defense Authorization Act) for fiscal year 2018 was welcome progress. House and Senate leaders pushed to include language that mandated that the Department of Defense (DoD) incorporate climate change in their facility planning (see more on what this section of the bill does here and here) as well as issue a report on the impacts of climate change on military installations. Unfortunately, what DoD produced fell far short of what was mandated.
Trump is losing his rallying cry to save coal. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted on Thursday to retire two coal-fired power plants in the next few years despite a plea from the president to keep one of the plants open.
Earlier this week, the president posted an oddly specific tweet that urged the government-owned utility to save the 49-year-old Paradise 3 plant in Kentucky. It so happens that the facility burns coal supplied by Murray Energy Corporation, whose CEO is Robert Murray, is a major Trump donor.