The Effects of Plastic Pollution on Aquatic Wildlife: Current Situations and Future Solutions

Abstract

The majority of consumer products used today are comprised of some form of plastic. Worldwide, almost 280 million t of plastic materials are produced annually, much of which ends up in landfills or the oceans (Shaw and Sahni Journal of Mechanical and Civil Engineering 46–48, 2014). While plastics are lightweight, inexpensive, and durable, these same qualities can make them very harmful to wildlife, especially once they become waterborne. Once seaborne, plastics are most likely found circulating in one of five major ocean gyres: two in the Pacific, one in the Indian, and two in the Atlantic. These ocean garbage patches are not solid islands of plastic; instead, they are a turbid mix of plastics (Kostigen 2008; Livingeco 2011). Recent research conducted on the surfaces of the Great Lakes has identified similar problems (Erikson et al. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 77(1), 177–182, 2013). A growing concern is that once plastics reach the wild, they may cause entanglement, death from ingestion, and carry invasive species. Several cutting edge technologies have been piloted to monitor or gather the plastics already in our environments and convert them back into oil with hopes to reduce the damage plastics are causing to our ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank J. Kainz, D. Wilkin, and N. Zegar for their assistance with the editing of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michelle Sigler.

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Sigler, M. The Effects of Plastic Pollution on Aquatic Wildlife: Current Situations and Future Solutions. Water Air Soil Pollut 225, 2184 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-014-2184-6

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Keywords

  • Plastics
  • Microplastics
  • Ocean gyres
  • Great Lakes
  • Marine pollution