Marine debris, as defined by NOAA (The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) is any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment of the Great Lakes.
Marine debris can be found in any ocean of the world, along coastlines, beaches, rivers and other waterways and is a growing problem for both humans and marine life. Whether directly or indirectly, almost everyone has encountered marine debris at some time in their life.
Unfortunately, we do not know the exact time frame that marine debris began to accumulate in our oceans. However, we do know that in the past 10 years alone, the amount of trash that is entering our ocean every year has more than tripled. While there is no way to know for sure just how much trash has accumulated in our beautiful oceans over time, scientists have estimated there to be a colossal 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic marine debris alone. The first fully synthetic and commercially successful plastic was first created in 1907 by Leo Hendrik Baekeland. Now, a little over 100 years after being first invented, plastic is the most common marine debris found in any ocean of the world.
Marine debris has become a problem for both marine animals and human beings alike. One of the most notable consequences from marine debris is wildlife entanglement. From the smallest fish to the largest whale, almost any animal can become a victim of entanglement from ghost nets, ropes, fishing line, six-pack rings, and more. Ingestion of trash is also a detriment to the animal's health which can often time result in death.
For humans, marine debris has had an affect on our health and economy. Plastic trash acts as a "sponge" and can absorb toxic chemicals surrounding it that have run off from the adjacent land or have found its way to the ocean via sewage lines. So, when a fish eats plastic debris and a human being later eats that fish, the toxins are then passed off to them.
Tourism is a huge economic boost for many countries with beautiful beaches and coastlines. Unfortunately, many of these beaches are located in coastal communities that do not have the equipment, funds, or sheer volume to clean trash when it washes up on the shore. In many cases this may cause a drastic economic loss, especially if the area is a popular tourist destination.
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