The oceans won’t fall short of plastic anytime soon. Because every year, 12.7 million tons of the plastic stuff goes into the oceans. In a recent interview, David Attenborough describes an order in which an albatross arrives at its nest to feed its young. But what comes out of their mouth to feed is not their actual food, which is fish and squid, but plastic! Now the question is, how can such capable birds be so easily fooled. Why do they come back from their long journeys with nothing but a mouthful of plastic? Albatrosses scavenge over thousands of kilometers in search of their favored prey. The fact that they only come back with plastic in their mouth is heartbreaking as well as strange.
Other species are consuming plastic too
This is not only the story of albatrosses. There are over 180 species of marine life that are known to be consuming plastic. Plastic in the ocean is a threat to the whole marine life and other species too. The effects of plastic pollution on marine life are very severe. Plastic in the ocean has been found out later on in the tiny plankton to gigantic whales. You can find plastic in every third UK-caught fish, and inside many other species that are consumed as food by humans. In short, species of all sizes and species are facing the effects of plastic pollution.
Why do marine species consume plastic?
There is no doubt that plastic kills marine life exceedingly. The reason that some species consume plastic is because of its size and quantity. For instance, zooplankton compares tiny plastic particles with food because their feeding appendices are meant to handle particles of a specific size. They assume that, if any particle falls into a specific size range, it is food. So the most probable reason that animals start consuming plastic is that they think it is their food.
Why do marine species get confused between plastic and their food?
Plastic in the ocean is creating huge chaos underwater, as most of the marine animals consume plastic, thinking it as their food. According to Matthew Savoca, it is due to the reason that animals have very different sensory, perceptive abilities than humans. In some cases, they can be better than us and worst in other cases. The fact is, in all cases, they perceive things differently.
The effects of plastic pollution on marine life are worsening as animals mistake plastic as their everyday food items. They might resemble small plastic pieces with tasty fish eggs and consume them. Marine animals, along with albatrosses, rely mainly on their sense of smell.
Results of a study on marine animals
Plastic kills marine life as marine animals function with their sensory organs, and are attracted to plastic because of its odor. Especially the dimethyl sulfide (DMS), a chemical compound cue emanating from plastic is known to attract the seabirds. Most algae grow in the floating plastic, and when those algae are eaten by krill, it releases DMS. Its smell attracts the birds and fish, and they consume plastic instead of the krill they came for. Savoca and his colleagues have conducted these experiments and suggest the explanation described above.
According to another research by Qamar Schuyler at The University of Queensland, Australia, it is suggested that turtles mistake plastic bags for their delicious food,i.e., jellyfish, and consume it.
Animals use different senses to find food
Apart from the sense of smell and sight, animals use many other senses to find their food. Many marine animals hunt their food with the help of echolocation. Most toothed whales and dolphins hunt food with echolocation and are found dead with stomachs full of plastic bags. There are also thousands of other such incidents proving that plastic kills marine life harshly.
So, the human race needs to understand the effects of throwing plastic in the oceans, and it’s high time to start acting considerably.