For decades the impact of plastic pollution on the marine ecosystem and ocean contamination has been under the spotlight. The wrecking state of marine habitat, water quality, and presence of microplastic in ocean water is concerning the world.
The less-discussed impact of ocean plastic pollution is its impact on vulnerable communities. The marginalized groups residing especially along the coastal areas suffer from the first-hand adversities caused due to the growing pollution in the oceans.
But what is the link between plastic pollution and seaside communities? How is it making their life worse? And what can be done to right this wrong?
Marine Ecosystem And Plastic Pollution
Apart from being a lifeline for marine habitats, the marine ecosystem provides a wealth of services to human beings. A food source to billions, waste detoxification, carbon storage, and cultural and spiritual enhancement; are some of the luxuries oceans offer us.
Any potential threat to this huge support system significantly reshapes the well-being of humans globally; from the losses of livelihood to adversely affecting their food security and health.
In recent decades, ocean contamination by the presence of plastic in the marine environment (marine plastic) has been an area of great concern. Data from 2010 have shown that an estimate of 4.8-12.7 metric tons of plastic was disposed into the ocean in 2010 alone. With time the consumption of plastic has surely increased, adding more poison into the water.
Furthermore, the sunken plastic breaks into microplastic (micro-fragments of plastics (0.1 μm–5 mm)). Such plastic is far more dangerous for the marine ecosystem as it persists over a geological timescale in some form, transferring through the food chain.
The three major challenges that sit in front of our oceans today are climate change, pollution, and overfishing. Despite the severity of the matter marine plastic pollution was not a much-talked issue earlier. The attention of large media sections was diverted towards this concerning issue recently which was partly fuelled by BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary. The documentary showed plastic ingested or entangled in seabird and sperm whales.
Regardless of the scrutiny plastic pollution has gained, mainly researchers still believe it to be the least concerning of all the major marine threats. But it is a great concern, especially for those parts of the world and the huge open ocean’s gyre system, where most of the ocean plastic is dumped via ocean currents.
Today we understand that plastic pollution is not only harming our earth’s ecosystem. It hinders most of the development strategies and plans made to tackle environmental problems, recent data shed new light on how plastic pollution skeptically affects the health and livelihood of communities around the world.
Impact on poor seaside communities
Recently the United Nations report entitled “Neglected: Environmental Justice of Plastic Pollution” calls for urgently addressing the degrading health and living standard of communities affected by plastic wastes.
UN also asked the authorities for the inclusion of these minorities in the related decision-making process. The UN urges for providing Environmental justice to the poorer communities who are deeply impacted by the adversities of plastic pollution.
UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen define Environmental justice as, “Environmental justice means educating those on the frontlines of plastic pollution about its risks, including them in decisions about its production, use, and disposal, and ensuring their access to a credible judicial system”
When looked closely, every step of plastic production harms the health of the nearby population. When oceans are contaminated by plastic and microplastic, fishermen are forces to choose a different source of living; thus harming them financially, and impacting their health because of the highly toxic materials.
Lack of financing and political will fails in garbage collection and recycling process, thus in a way adding more plastic to the water. Secondly, plastic pollution drives climate change, negatively impacting the progress done in the respective field.
Furthermore, rich nations dump their plastic waste in poorer countries, and also most of the plastic manufacturing factories are set up poor locale; undermining justice and human rights.
When looked deeper into where maximum plastic waste enters the water, a not-so-astonishing picture comes up. About 80% of the plastic is enters the oceans through riversides and beaches, whereas the rest 20% from ships.
The Silver Lining
As the concerning picture of worsening plastic contamination in oceans and its effects on the communities is coming to light; people are coming up with innovative plans to tackle the issue, offering a silver lining to the world.
The Ocean Cleanup, a flagship tech solution invented by a 19-years old student offers is an innovative solution for cleaning up the plastic drifting on the water’s surface; which asks for a few 600-meter long floating barriers in the ocean currents for capturing the hovering plastic. This is one of the most popular ideas, which has caught the eye of the governing authorities around the world.
But the project’s inability to clean up microplastic from the ocean and the possibility of causing harm to the ocean wildlife have also received a lot of criticism.
Local beach cleaning drives by locals is a regular phenomenon in many countries. The trend is gaining huge popularity, especially in the hotspots where a huge amount of plastic is thrown on beaches by ocean gyres.