Study paints grim plastic picture

The world’s oceans and shallow water coral reefs are struggling to survive the ongoing onslaught of human activity, with unprecedented levels of decline in reef and coral health across the globe being observed according to a new UN report.

The Plastics and Shallow Water Coral Reefs report spotlights the ongoing degradation of reef health, while also tracing the massive increase in marine plastic litter.

“Marine plastic litter pollution is already affecting more than 800 marine species through ingestion, entanglement and habitat change,” says head of UN Environment’s coral reef unit, Jerker Tamelander.

“Waste continues to leak from land, and coral reefs are on the receiving end. They also trap a lot of fishing gear as well as plastic lost from aquaculture. With the impacts of climate change on coral reef ecosystems already significant, the additional threat of plastics must be taken seriously.”

Key Facts & Figures identified in the report include:

  • In 2010 approximately 275 million metric tonnes of plastic waste were generated by 192 countries, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes entering the ocean.

  • Over 700 million metric tonnes of plastic fibres have been produced and washing a single garment releases more than 1900 individual fibres into our rivers and oceans

  • As of 2010 an estimated 11.1 billion items of plastic are thought to be in the Asia-Pacific region alone and this is expected to increase to 15.7 billion by 2025.

  • At the time of writing over 700 different species have been documented to have had some form of negative interaction with marine litter (namely plastics).

  • Ghost gear is likely to be one of the most significant threats in marine ecosystems and over 46% of plastics found in the ‘floating garbage patches’ (or gyres) are made up of this plastic type.

  • The additive effects of climate change and other stressors (like plastic pollution) are unknown.

  • Macroplastics impact reefs by: 1) Direct physical, mechanical damage 2) The introduction of pathogenic agents ‘hitchhiking’ on the plastics 3) ‘Overtopping’ phototrophic animals preventing light from reaching tissue and creating low oxygen levels 4) Direct ingestion and gut blockage 5) Entanglement and entrapment

The full report can be found here

Subscribe to The Environment Report