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Plastic Waste and Its Effects on Marine Life Term Paper

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2020


Oceans cover extensive portion of the planet. Moreover, numerous human activities take place in the oceans. Hence, they are prone to pollution. Harmful waste matters from industries are channeled into the oceans. Besides, people dump plastic wastes into the oceans. The wastes have severe impacts on marine community and human health. Plastic wastes, particularly microplastics alter eating habits of marine animals and lead to starvation. Besides, they expose human to breast and prostate cancers. Plastics are made from polycarbonates that contain a harmful compound known as bisphenol. Therefore, dumping of plastic materials in oceans contaminates water with bisphenol. Bisphenol alters the reproduction pattern of marine community and exposes human to disease like obesity. Besides, bisphenol has severe economic impacts on countries. It affects the fishing industry, and countries spend a lot of money to treat diseases that are related to bisphenol.


Oceans cover the biggest part of the planet. However, many people do not appreciate the importance of oceans to human and marine life. Moreover, a majority of people do not understand the relationship between the earth’s system and oceans. Costanza (1999) alleges that oceans and coastal environment have fiscal value. Costanza (1999) argues that ocean and coastline biomes cater for the biggest share of the ecosystem’s services. Marine biomes such as coral reefs, coastal systems, and open oceans help to protract economic and human activities. Nevertheless, many people do not understand this reality.

Costanza (1999) argues that both the government and public do not appreciate the economic value of coastal and Ocean environments. One reason ocean and coastline biomes are prone to pollution is because they transcend national borders. Marine pollution includes agricultural runoff, industrial effluence, wind-blown rubbles and dirt, nutrient effluence and plastic wastes. Today, it is estimated that hundreds of metric tons of plastic wastes are channeled to the oceans on a daily basis. Indeed, at least 40% of the global ocean surfaces are covered with plastic wastes. This paper will discuss the effects of plastic wastes on marine and human life.

Overview of Plastic

Many people regard plastic bags as items designed to make their life comfortable. They use plastic bags to carry items as well as to preserve perishable foodstuffs. If not well discarded, the bags pose a significant threat to marine life. Ahn, Hong, Neelamani, Philip and Shanmugam (2006) argue that plastic has become a daily component of human life. They assert that plastic is not a bad thing if used well. According to Ahn et al. (2006), plastic facilitates treatment of patients suffering from diabetics and arthritis.

Besides, motorbike riders and construction workers use plastic to cover their heads. Nevertheless, when plastic waste is released into the oceans, it becomes a threat to both human and marine life. Sea turtles confuse plastic bags with jellyfish. In most cases, plastic waste is swept into the ocean by rain water. In addition, fishermen dispose of plastic waste into the oceans as they do fishing. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 85% of plastic wastes come from merchant ships. Ahn et al. (2006) posit that it is hard to enforce laws due to the nature of oceans.

Composition of Plastic and Microplastic

Daoji and Dag (2004) allege that there are different types of plastics based on method of polymerization. They claim that three kinds of plastics contribute to marine pollution. They include mega-plastics, microplastics, and macro-plastics (Daoji & Dag, 2004). According to Daoji and Dag (2004), mega- and microplastics are mainly found in the northern hemisphere. They are rare to find in remote islands. Microplastics and mega-plastics are found in shoes, packaging bags, and other household items that are either dumped in landfills or dropped from ships. Fishing nets also add to the composition of plastic wastes found in oceans. Microplastics refer to small fragments of plastic that are 5mm or less.

They arise from the disintegration of big plastic materials due to collision and other mechanical forces (Sheavly & Register, 2007). Examples of microplastics include grinding wastes and scours obtained from cosmetics products. In addition, the powder and pellets used to make plastic items constitute microplastics.

Primary and Secondary Effects of Microplastic on Marine Life

Microplastics have both physical and biological impacts on marine life. Many marine animals die because of consuming microplastics. Derraik (2002) argues that microplastics cover equal portion as planktonic organisms and residues. Thus, marine animals consume high amount of microplastics that make them suffer from internal blockages and abrasions. Moreover, microplastics expose marine community to numerous health dangers. Some microplastics contain chemicals that expose marine community to cancer threats and endocrine disturbances. As marine animals such as sea cucumbers continue to ingest microplastics, the plastics get fixed in their tissues (Derraik, 2002).

Eventually, animals that feed on sea cucumbers end up swallowing the microplastics. In addition, microplastics affect the feeding habits of small marine animals. Once the animals ingest microplastics, they feel satisfied, and this affects their rate of food intake. Thompson, Moore, Vom Saal and Swan (2009) argue that microplastics contain enormous persistent organic pollutants that are passed on to marine animals. Hence, microplastics affect not only marine animals that ingest them, but also the entire marine community that feed on aquatic organisms. Another effect of microplastics on the marine community is that they lead to uneven distribution of organisms. They lead to some marine organisms shifting to regions, which are less organically diverse, therefore affecting their survival.

Effects of Microplastics on Human Health and Economy

Apart from affecting marine life and marine community, microplastics have adverse effects on human health and economy. Microplastics contain antioxidants and plasticizers that are detrimental to human health. According to Hammer, Kraak and Parsons (2012), bisphenol; a chemical found in microplastics affects body functionalities. It stalls brain development and affects cognitive ability. Even though nutritionists argue that eating marine organisms like fish helps in brain development, they do not recognize that it may also prevent brain development, particularly if a person ingests microplastics that are embedded in fish.

In addition, some chemicals found in microplastics cause body and limbs deformity and compromise sexual development. Microplastics contain carcinogenic chemicals (Wright, Thompson & Galloway, 2013). Consequently, if ingested, they expose human to cancer. According to Wright et al. (2013), there are numerous cases of prostate and breast cancers that arise as a result of consumption of microplastics.

Microplastics affect the distribution of marine life, which acts as a major tourist attraction. Accumulation of microplastics in an area leads to death and migration of marine animals. Besides, tourists avoid eating shellfish and other marine animals once they suspect that they are harvested from polluted oceans. Eventually, tourists stop visiting a country, therefore affecting a country’s economy. The United Kingdom spends at least £1.5 million every year to clean its marine environment as a way to attract tourists (Cole, 2011). The country loses up to £499 million, which is collected from tourism industry. Apart from loss of tourism revenues, countries incur enormous costs in beach cleanups. For instance, the United Kingdom and France spend a lot of money to clean their coastlines every year.

Moreover, microplastics damage fishing gears and motors. Hence, fishing companies incur an enormous cost to repair or procure new fishing gears. Ivar do Sul and Costa (2014) argue that the nature of coastline and level of marine pollution affect housing prices. Houses that are situated in clean and plain coastlines are more expensive than those located in polluted and rugged coastlines. Consequently, microplastics and other plastic wastes affect the housing prices in many countries. In addition, countries incur health costs due to microplastics. As aforementioned, ingestion of microplastics exposes people to cancer. Hence, countries like the United States spend a lot of money to treat people suffering from breast and prostate cancers.

Challenges of Microplastics

The nature of microplastics makes it hard for countries to get rid of them. Some microplastics are too small in size such that they are hard to detect. In addition, microplastics come from numerous sources making them hard to eradicate. While it is possible to eliminate microplastics that emanate from degradation of secondary plastics, it is hard to get rid of primary microplastics (Cole, 2011). Primary microplastics are mainly found in personal care products and facial cleansers. They are small in size and hard to detect. The fact that we cannot prevent people from using cosmetics proves that it is hard to get rid of primary microplastics. Recently, it was discovered that wear and tear of synthetic materials also lead to formation of microplastics that are hard to eradicate. For instance, it is hard to control mechanical wear and tear in ships. Consequently, oceans will never be free from microplastics.

Overview and Levels of Bisphenol in the Ocean

Bisphenol refers to a carbon-based artificial compound used to manufacture plastics. The compound is not soluble in water. Hence, it remains suspended in water when released into oceans. There is a strong link between plastics and bisphenol. Plastics are made from polycarbonates. Rogers, Metz and Yong (2013) allege that polycarbonates are obtained from bisphenol A. Hence, a majority of synthetic materials contain bisphenol.

According to Japanese scientists, oceans are highly contaminated with bisphenol A, which is mainly used in the manufacture of plastic bags. The scientists alleged that the use of anti-rusting paints in ships leads to the increase in the level of bisphenol A in ocean water. Currently, the shorelines of at least 200 countries are contaminated with bisphenol A (Flint, Markle, Thompson & Wallace, 2012). Besides, most industrial effluent that is channeled into the oceans contains a high level of bisphenol A. The current level of bisphenol A in ocean water is distressing due to its adverse effects on marine life and human health.

Effects of Bisphenol

Bisphenol has adverse effects on marine community, human health, and economy. It leads to impaired reproduction among the marine community. Besides, bisphenol causes infertility among the marine animals, thus lowering their population. In other words, bisphenol affects the distribution of the marine community as it decreases their rate of reproduction. On the other hand, bisphenol has adverse effects on human health (Flint et al., 2012).

It affects neural circuits that control eating habit and expose human to the risk of contracting obesity. Besides, it affects brain development of young children. Flint et al. (2012) allege that bisphenol affects the dopaminergic system and make people hyperactive. Moreover, it impairs cognitive ability. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to bisphenol leads to sexual dysfunction among men. Because bisphenol has severe effects on human health, it makes people and countries to incur enormous costs as they try to treat and mitigate its effects. Hence, one of the economic effects of bisphenol is related to health costs. Moreover, it affects the fishing industry. The population of fish goes down, and many people avoid buying fish due to fear of ingesting bisphenol compounds. The level of income of families and businesses that rely on the fishing industry goes down.


Marine pollution occurs when harmful substances or chemicals are released into the ocean. Today, plastic wastes contribute to the greatest part of marine pollution. Floods sweep plastic materials from estates into the oceans. The plastic materials are harmful to the marine community when ingested. Besides, they have severe effects on human health. A majority of plastic wastes contain bisphenol, which is a toxic compound. Bisphenol lowers the fertility of marine community thereby affecting its population. In addition, bisphenol exposes people to a myriad of health hazards. Consumption of high amount of bisphenol impairs a person’s cognitive ability and exposes him/her to the risk of contacting obesity. Currently, it is not clear if bisphenol is carcinogenic. Therefore, the future research should focus on determining if consumption of bisphenol can cause cancer.


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Costanza, R. (1999). The ecological, economic, and social importance of the oceans. Ecological Economics, 31(2), 199-213. Web.

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Sheavly, S., & Register, K. (2007). Marine debris and plastics: Environmental concerns, sources, impacts and solutions. Journal of Polymers & the Environment, 15(4), 301-305. Web.

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Wright, S., Thompson, R., & Galloway, T. (2013). The physical impacts of microplastics on marine organisms: A review. Environmental Pollution, 178(1), 483-492. Web.

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