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A Sea of Plastic

PIERRE HUGUET/BIOSPHOTO/MINDEN PICTURES

Plastic bags float by a sea turtle.

Take a look around your school or home. You probably see plenty of plastic, including toys, bottles, and bags. But what happens when that plastic gets thrown away? Scientists say a lot of it ends up in Earth’s oceans—and causes big problems for creatures like sea turtles, fish, and birds.

“Plastic is a threat to hundreds of ocean species,” says Allison Schutes of the Ocean Conservancy. That’s a group that works to protect the world’s oceans.

Take a look around your school or home. You probably see plenty of plastic, like toys, bottles, and bags. But what happens when that plastic gets thrown away? Scientists say a lot of it ends up in Earth’s oceans. There, it causes problems for creatures like sea turtles, fish, and birds.

“Plastic is a threat to hundreds of ocean species,” says Allison Schutes of the Ocean Conservancy. That’s a group that works to protect oceans.

Plastic Pollution

A recent study estimates that about 16 billion pounds of plastic makes its way into the ocean every year. Most of this plastic starts off as litter in towns and cities. Rainwater and wind carry the plastic into the ocean or into rivers that lead to the ocean. Once it is under the waves, plastic can break into smaller and smaller pieces.

All that plastic is bad news for marine life. Some creatures die when they get tangled in bag handles or old fishing lines and nets. Others accidentally consume plastic. For example, a sea turtle might gobble up a bag thinking it’s a jellyfish. A gray whale can suck in plastic when it tries to eat plankton, one of its main meals. The plastic can get stuck in an animal’s stomach and block food from being digested. This can cause the animal to starve.

A recent study estimates that about 16 billion pounds of plastic gets into the ocean every year. Most of it starts off as litter in towns and cities. Rainwater and wind carry it into the ocean or into rivers that lead to the ocean. Once it is under the waves, plastic can break into small pieces. 

All that plastic is bad news for marine life. Some creatures die when they get tangled in bag handles. Others consume plastic by accident. For example, a sea turtle might eat a bag thinking it’s a jellyfish. A gray whale can suck in plastic when it tries to eat plankton. The plastic can get stuck in an animal’s stomach and block food from being digested. This can cause the animal to starve.

Cleanup Crews

Most scientists say it would be tough to remove a lot of the plastic that’s already in the ocean. They say the best solution to the problem is to prevent more plastic from getting there.

Many groups are already taking action. They organize cleanups on beaches and riverbanks all over the world. Volunteers pick up litter before it can get out to sea. Last year, Ocean Conservancy volunteers collected more than 16 million pounds of it!

Experts also encourage people to use less plastic. They suggest that people try reusable bags and bottles.

“These seem like small things,” says Schutes. “But they can help make a big difference.”

Most scientists say it would be tough to remove the plastic that’s already in the ocean.  They say the best solution to the problem is to stop more plastic from getting there. 

Many groups are already taking action. They organize cleanups on beaches and riverbanks.  Volunteers pick up litter before it can get out to sea. Last year, Ocean Conservancy volunteers collected more than 16 million pounds of it!

Experts also encourage people to use less plastic. They suggest that people try reusable bags and bottles.

“These seem like small things,” says Schutes. “But they can help make a big difference.”

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