A plastic bag floating in the ocean resembles a jellyfish. To a sea turtle or a marine mammal, a plastic bag floating in the ocean can easily be mistaken for a jellyfish, a common food source.
It is estimated that tens of thousands of marine animals have died from ingesting plastic bags. The plastic gets lodged in the esophagus, stomach or intestines, preventing food from being digested and leading to a slow and painful death. Basically the animals starve to death.
When an animal dies at sea, its body will either sink to the bottom or be devoured by sharks. Either way, it’s tough to get an accurate count of marine animals that have died this way.
Biologists performing autopsies to find the cause of death of whales and dolphins that have washed up on the shores have discovered plastic bags, balloons and other plastics in their stomachs. Seagoing birds like the albatross have been found to have bottle caps, lighters, cigarette butts and various forms of plastic in their stomachs as well.
Countries around the world have taken steps to eliminate or significantly reduce plastic bags. Some countries, such as Germany, charge a recycling tax. Others, such as Denmark and Wales, charge fees for plastic bags, while countries in Africa, including Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya and Ethiopia, have banned them altogether.
Although unpopular at first, plastic reduction/elimination laws demonstrate a positive effect on the cities that have adopted them. People have adjusted by bringing their own means of taking their products home, namely reusable shopping bags. The results are less trash in their communities as well as a heightened appreciation for the overall environment.
Plastic bags and other forms of plastic have inundated our oceans, wreaking havoc among birds and marine animals that depend on the oceans for survival. Plastics are breaking down to small particles that fish are ingesting, having a direct and indirect negative impact on consumable seafood. Shore communities have an obligation to protect the ocean, not only for marine life, but also for our own benefit.