Plastic pollution is pushing marine life towards extinction, says WWF study

  • Plastic pollution in the oceans is expected to quadruple by 2050, according to a new report.
  • And there could be 50 times more microplastics in the sea by 2100.
  • Plastic pollution is pushing some species to the brink of extinction.
  • But technological innovation and global action combined can help avert catastrophe.

According to a new report, the level of microplastics in our oceans is expected to increase 50-fold by the end of the century, increasing the risk of widespread extinction of marine life in the most polluted areas.

An analysis for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has found that an area of ​​ocean more than two and a half times the size of Greenland could exceed ecologically dangerous concentrations of microplastics by 2100.

“Plastic pollution is now found all over the ocean, and nearly every marine species is likely to have encountered it,” says WWF, adding that a total of 2,141 species have so far encountered plastic pollution. in their natural environment.

The report says some marine environments – including pollution hotspots like the Mediterranean, East China and Yellow Sea and Arctic sea ice – have already exceeded a safe level of plastic pollution.

By 2050, the report predicts that the total amount of plastic in the oceans will have quadrupled.

Already 88% of marine species studied have been negatively impacted by plastic pollution and it is estimated that up to 90% of seabirds and 52% of sea turtles ingest plastic.


“For already threatened species, some of which live in such hotspots, such as monk seals or sperm whales in the Mediterranean, plastic pollution is an additional stressor pushing these populations towards extinction,” says WWF.

The root systems of mangroves, which provide coastal protection and serve as nurseries for many marine species, suffer from the highest density of plastic pollution in the sea. Plastic also plays a role in the destruction of coral reefs.

The report’s findings are based on a review of 2,592 studies by scientists from the Helmholtz Center at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany and WWF. They conclude that humans are also at risk of eating seafood polluted with microplastics.

The report says microplastics have been found in mussels and oysters. “Since both are eaten whole by humans, there is no way to avoid the plastics they contain,” he adds, noting that four of the 20 brands of canned sardines and sprats tested contained plastic particles.

“Undoubtedly, unchecked plastic pollution will undoubtedly become a contributing factor to the ongoing sixth mass extinction, leading to widespread ecosystem collapse and transgression of safe planetary boundaries,” said Ghislaine Llewellyn, deputy lead. oceans at WWF.

Describing the situation as “a planetary crisis”, the WWF says almost two-thirds of all plastic ever produced had already become waste in 2015 and it estimates that 86 to 150 million metric tons of plastic have now accumulated in oceans.

Innovative solutions to fight against plastic pollution

The UN Environment Assembly is due to meet in Nairobi, Kenya, at the end of February and WWF says pressure is mounting on nations to agree a treaty to reduce production and use of plastics in the world.

“We know how to stop plastic pollution and we know the cost of inaction comes at the expense of our ocean ecosystems – there is no excuse for delaying a global treaty on plastic pollution,” said WWF’s Llewellyn .

“The way out of our plastic crisis is for countries to agree to a globally binding treaty that addresses all stages of the plastic life cycle and puts us on the path to ending marine plastic pollution by here 2030.”

The Global Plastic Action Partnership, convened by the World Economic Forum, reports that eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean every year and predicts that without urgent collective action to stop it, there will be more plastic than of fish in the sea by 2050.

Five countries are currently signed up to pilot the Partnership’s national model for Accelerating Plastics Action to reduce plastic use. Meanwhile, the Forum’s Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform is hosting the Global Plastic Innovation Network Challenge.

Among the innovators are Australia-based gDiapers, which claims to have invented the world’s first fully compostable disposable diaper, and Nigeria’s Waste Bazaar, which uses mobile technology to help developing countries solve the problem of indiscriminate dumping of waste.

In Lebanon, Diwama has developed artificial intelligence-based image recognition software that identifies different types of waste to enable municipalities to separate and recycle it. Individuals can also use the software on their smartphone to sort waste into the correct bin.

The Forum’s report, The New Plastics Economy, says that without such innovations, around one-third of the world’s plastic packaging will never be reused or recycled.

Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Training Content.

This article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum.

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