What impact does plastic pollution have on marine fauna?

Plastic pollution, a real scourge for marine animals

Inexpensive, practical, very useful in food preservation, waterproof, and many more… plastic is nowadays found in almost all our everyday objects, and in all forms. However, plastic pollution is a scourge for marine fauna. Of the 270 million tons of plastic produced each year, 8 million tons end up in the oceans. Knowing that this material takes between 20 years (for single-use plastic bags) to 600 years (for fishing nets) to degrade, it is astounding to imagine the quantity that is found in our oceans today, floating around the animals that populate the seabed.

Ingesting plastic is harmful to marine wildlife.

The ingestion of plastics by marine animals can be of several types: intentional or unintentional, accidental or indirect for predators that eat prey that has itself ingested plastic. Although it is not the main cause of death, ingestion induces significant impacts on the animals.

Plastic as a lure for predators
When immersed in water, plastic is a very good support for small organisms such as algae, microbes and small animals. They accumulate there until they form a film. This accumulation, called “biofouling”, has a very attractive odor for certain animal organisms which would then be deceived by this odor and ingest the plastic waste.

This is particularly the case for anchovies, sea birds such as albatrosses, petrels and sea turtles. In addition to a smell that traps them, these accumulations are visually deceptive! Resembling jellyfish, their predators, such as turtles and dolphins, are mistaken.

Plastic pollution leads to physiological alterations, sometimes lethal.
The size and quantity of plastics consumed by marine organisms depends on the size of the animal. A large consumption of plastic will fill its stomach and alter the feeling of satiety of the animal which will not eat nutritious food. This important ingestion can also cause perforations of the intestine, resulting in the death of the animal. Without necessarily being fatal, plastic also causes endocrine system disruption, oxidative stress, cell death or a reduction in enzyme activity, when it is found in organisms such as mussels, oysters, or fish. Although crustaceans, as we imagine, cannot feed on large waste, they are impacted by the microplastics that result from the decomposition of the largest waste products or that come from our body scrubs.

Plastic wastes that are death traps

There are debris that are real traps for marine animals: abandoned fishing nets, packing tape, containers, bags?

A physical trap from which it is difficult to escape.
It is the factor of plastic pollution that causes the most deaths among marine animals. 79% of them die when they are trapped by this waste. Abandoned fishing nets, in particular, can trap marine animals for a year and a half. Without seeing them, they become entangled in them and can no longer get out. Predators are in turn attracted to these “easy” prey, and also get caught in the nets. Unable to feed, they die slowly or strangle themselves trying to disentangle themselves from it. Others will have a part of their body obstructed by a waste product, which will either prevent them from fulfilling a vital need or make them vulnerable to predators. At the bottom of the oceans, smaller organisms are trapped in containers from which they will never be able to get out!

A disease vector for coral

Crucial for underwater life and the protection of our coasts, corals are also impacted by plastic pollution! Their debris promotes the appearance of often fatal diseases that cause physical damage to their tissues.

We know what we still have to do to protect our seabed!