20 Feb 2019 - OPINION - While marine plastic pollution has garnered the world’s attention with the visuals of giant gyres of plastic and soupy layers of microplastics, it is the invisible and persistent pollutants contaminating the marine environment and hitchhiking on plastics that have created a toxic timebomb.
Life on earth is utterly dependent on healthy oceans. They produce much of the oxygen we breathe, cycle the carbon dioxide, and regulate the weather we experience. Perhaps it is the vastness of the oceans that has made us complacent about its capacity to keep absorbing our toxic wastes?
After a year of global ocean meetings, the international community is finally facing up to the reality of polluted, depleted oceans.
Toxic waste has been pouring into our oceans since the industrial revolution. Oceans have been treated as bottomless pits — the “away” place where industrial and domestic wastes are sent to “disappear.” As the giant global sump collecting our sewage, rubbish, pesticides, run-off, and industrial emissions — it appears the oceans’ generosity has reached critical limits.
There is no hiding. Plastics and chemical pollutants now contaminate the most remote and deepest parts of the ocean. Despite the global ocean covering 71 percent of the earth’s surface and holding 97 percent of the earth’s water, scientists have found that tiny shrimp inhabiting the vast, remote depths of the Mariana Trench are loaded with toxic polychlorinated biphenyl — or PCBs — and brominated flame retardants at levels comparable to the world’s contaminated industrialized regions.
We recently compiled a comprehensive report, “Ocean Pollutants Guide — Toxic Threats to Human health and Marine Life,” detailing the twin plastic and pollution problem that is dramatically impacting the health of marine ecosystems everywhere. While marine plastic pollution has garnered the world’s attention with the visuals of giant gyres of plastic and soupy layers of microplastics, it is the invisible and persistent pollutants contaminating the marine environment and hitchhiking on plastics that have created a toxic timebomb.
Highly persistent chemical pollutants are already altering the reproduction and behavior of marine animals and impacting their immune systems, making survival even harder by altering their capacity to respond to disease.
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