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Oceans and Human Impact

Old Mug by Heath Alseike, Flickr, CC BY-SA

In recognition of World’s Oceans Day, ScienceOpen hosted a special article collection published by nonprofit Annual Reviews that address the topics of marine pollution, human impact and environmental stewardship, and marine species’ adaptation. The Oceans collection aims to raise awareness about the grave consequences of plastic debris in our oceans and the overall impact humans have on the marine environment.

Plastics contamination was first reported nearly 50 years ago, following the rise of commercial plastics production. According to ‘Plastics in the Marine Environment’ by Kara Laveder Law, global plastics production surpassed 300 million metric tons per year in 2014. Plastic debris has been detected worldwide in all major marine habitats. In her article, Law presents a framework to evaluate the current “understanding of the sources, distribution, fate, and impacts of marine plastics”. In a similar vein, ‘Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant’ by Boris Worm et al. discusses how marine plastics work their way into the food web in the first place. This article further presents the complex toxicology of plastic particles on marine life and how plastic can transfer up the food chain. Worm et al. offer solutions to the current crisis by suggesting a Global Convention on Plastic Pollution as a collaboration between “governments, producers, scientists, and citizens”.

In Kenneth R. Weiss’ interview with environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck—one of the co-authors of Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant’—we discover that the pileup of plastic debris is more than ugly ocean litter. Jambeck argues that plastic gets consumed by marine organisms, which can be detrimental for both wildlife and humans:

 “Even though plastics are hard materials, at the microscopic level they absorb persistent organic compounds. Persistent organic pollutants like DDT, PCBs, flame retardants and fabric treatments have an affinity for plastic. Plastics act like sponges, soaking them up.” Continue reading “Oceans and Human Impact”