Our oceans are a delicate ecosystem, and for millions of years have been host to the greatest biodiversity on planet earth. But with an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic currently floating in our oceans and the U.S. alone producing another 32 million tons of plastic waste per year, ocean animals are quickly entering the endangered species list due to ocean plastics.
Here are the top 5 animals that are currently endangered due to ocean plastic.
Much of the plastic waste that finds its way into our oceans and waterways are microplastics. These microplastics are less than 5mm in length and can easily mimic the appearance of algae or other small foodstuffs that fish happily chomp on. These microplastics find their way into the stomachs and gills of hundreds of species of fish, and can cause severe damage if enough is ingested.
Not only do these microplastics threaten the fish themselves, but also humans. It is estimated that much of the fish we now consume contains microplastics, which are finding their way into humans digestive systems.
Dolphins and Whales
Dolphins and whales, like fish, also mistake plastic debris for food sources and are ingesting plastic at an alarmingly high rate. Because animals like sperm whales and sei whales, both of which are listed as endangered species, can consume larger pieces of plastics, they are especially vulnerable to a higher risk of death due to plastic.
A viral video of conservationists removing a straw from the nose of a sea turtle turned the worlds eye onto the problem of ocean plastics and how they are endangering marine life. Sea turtles remain one of the species that is most at risk due to plastic pollution, and experts have listed death by plastic as “a greater risk to sea turtles than oil spills.”
While ocean plastic seems a clear threat to animals that spend their lives underwater, the birds that fly above the ocean are just as endangered by plastic pollution. The Cory shearwater, for example, was found to ingest plastic at the highest rate of any ocean bird, clocking in at a whopping 70-94% of birds studied.
These birds dive into the ocean to hunt for fish, and often mistake floating plastic for food, causing them to ingest dangerous or sometimes lethal amounts of plastic.
Seals and Sea Lions
Other semi-aquatic animals endangered by ocean plastic are seals and sea lions. These adorable little land mermaids are experiencing sharp population declines, most of which is attributed to plastic pollution. Seals and sea lions ingest microplastics from the ocean itself as well as the fish they eat, and are also susceptible to becoming entangled in “ghost gear” or abandoned plastic fishing equipment. Plastic pollution has put species like the Monk seal on the critically endangered species list, and as the plastic problem gets worse, more are likely to follow.
We must act quickly to reverse the damage that is being done to ocean animals. By reducing our plastic production and buying from companies that produce sustainable, plastic-free products, we can help stop population decline in our most endangered species and preserve biodiversity in our oceans for generations to come.
You can read more about RIO’s mission to end ocean plastic pollution and how we are making products that promote a cleaner, more sustainable future for everyone.