How plastic pollution is affecting seals and other marine life

17 November 2017

Microplastics, abandoned fishing gear and other plastic pollution are among our biggest environmental threats. It’s hurting sea animals and making them sick

Plastic waste is littering our oceans and threatening the lives of millions of marine animals. Seals, whales, dolphins, seabirds, fish, crabs and many other sea animals are dying and becoming sick because of this deadly environmental concern.

Microplastics are a major part of the issue. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic which come from larger plastics that have degraded over time.

Sea animals often eat microplastics because of their small size. And plastic contains toxic chemicals, which can increase the chance of disease and affect reproduction. After ingesting microplastics, seals, and other animals, may suffer for months or years before they die.

In 2014, an estimated 15 to 51 trillion microplastic particles were floating in the world’s oceans, weighing between 93,000 and 236,000 tonnes.

What is ghost gear and how is it connected to microplastics?

Ghost gear is the name given to fishing equipment which has been abandoned or lost in the sea. Nets and other man-made equipment can entangle and kill whales, dolphins, turtles, seals and other sea animals.

It’s likely that as the volume of ghost gear in our oceans increases, the volume of microplastics will increase too. We urgently need more research to understand how ghost gear contributes to the microplastics problem.

But we do know more and more fishing gear is being left in our oceans, and as this breaks down into microplastics, more animals could be poisoned.

What we’re doing

We set up the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) which brings together governments, private-sector companies and non-governmental organisations to tackle the problem. We want to clear our oceans of ghost gear and stop more going in. And we want to do this in a sustainable way.

Find out more and support our Sea Change work.

After ingesting microplastics, seals, and other animals, may suffer for months or years before they die.

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