Clean up your Act!

(June 2nd, 2015) A new book about marine litter wants to illustrate how serious the matter is – not only for marine wildlife but also for our own health. We need to intensify research on this issue, says Tamara Galloway, one of the book’s authors.

“Mummy, why do we have to move here, where it is cold, dark and there is so little food around us?” asks a sea turtle baby while migrating to the north. “My dear son, we can do nothing about it. Humans were too irresponsible to clean-up after themselves, leaving our warm and sunny home full of litter.”

This could be a scene straight from a Disney movie, raising awareness about environmental pollution. Fact is: our oceans are full of trash, coming from ships, landfills, industrial outfalls or illegal dumping. And there is a lot of it – in 1997, the US National Academy of Sciences estimated that each year, 6.4 million tonnes of litter end up in our oceans. And Algalita, a US-based research organisation focussed on plastic pollution, revealed, in 2004, that marine water samples contain six times more plastic than plankton.

Mucky waters are not only an ugly sight; they also put marine animals in danger due to accidental swallowing of marine litter. For sea turtles, clear plastic bags look just like delicious jellyfish and birds easily mistake small plastic pieces for nutritious fish eggs. But the plastic food has no nutritional value and the animals soon starve to death. As horrible as it sounds, humankind hasn’t really taken notice of that dirty problem. A new book is about to change that.

Marine Anthropogenic Litter presents more than five decades of knowledge about marine litter and its impact on the environment and human health. The book, published by Springer, will be available on June 14th, 2015. It contains 16 chapters that give a universal picture about different types of marine litter, its biological effects, up to date research and the legislative regulations that are or will be put into force to stop this massive problem from killing our Planet. The authors hope that every person, regardless of age, sex or occupation, will be encouraged to educate themselves about the negative impact of marine litter and how to prevent it.

One of the contributing authors is Tamara Galloway from the University of Exeter. Her research circles around the negative impact of plastic marine litter on human health. Her contribution “reviews what we know about the kinds of plastics in the oceans, how they can be taken up by marine organisms in the food web, and what their potential effects could be if ingested by humans”, summarises Galloway. “At the moment, we know that microscopic plastic debris can be ingested by marine animals, including those intended for human consumption, but we don’t yet know what their consequences are for human health. We do know that many of the chemicals associated with plastics can be found in the human body and some of them are associated with adverse health effects,” she adds. In 2012, for instance, Galloway and colleagues, found a link between high levels of urinary Bisphenol-A and severe coronary artery stenosis. Bisphenol-A, an endocrine disrupting chemical, is heavily used in the manufacture of plastic bottles.

News about marine littering gets worse by the day. Big rubbish islands can now be found in the oceans wherever you look. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, growing since the 1950s, for instance, has “pulled 3.5 million tonnes of trash and spans 3.43 million km2, the size of Europe”, states a report by the European Commission. Marine litter, according to Galloway, has the malicious property to “float on the surface and be transported to all corners of the globe”. So, if you throw a plastic bag into the ocean in France, it might travel all the way to Madagascar, be swallowed there by a fish, which will be caught, cooked and brought to you on a plate in a posh French restaurant. Thus, the issue of marine litter affects everybody, independent of geographical location, religion, or views on environmental protection.

Still, research on this grave matter is difficult to perform. “We have struggled for years to get funding for our research into the harmful effects of plastics. It is only in the last few years that governments have woken up to this important issue and started to take notice,” shares Tamara Galloway.

So, what can we do in order to stop this problem from killing us? “Stop throwing litter into the ocean!” says Tamara Galloway.

Nadejda Capatina

Photo: Kratochvil

Last Changes: 07.14.2015