A study published in Nature Sustainability has found that microplastics on beaches have increased by over 115% in the past 30 years. Microplastics, which are often created when larger pieces of plastic break down, can be smaller than five millimetres in length and pose a risk to marine wildlife who ingest them accidentally. Microplastics also accumulate in the atmosphere and surrounding soil, leading to long-term damage to wildlife and the environment, and can have serious implications for human health. Campaigns to reduce plastic consumption and improve recycling initiatives are among the solutions being suggested to address the problem.
New Study Reveals Increase in Microplastics Pollution on Beaches
If you were to take a stroll on any beach worldwide, you would find various types of garbage that mistakenly find their way into the ocean. One of the most concerning trends, however, is the rise of microplastics on beaches, leading to devastating effects on marine wildlife.
A recent study by Nature Sustainability disclosed that the number of microplastics on beaches has escalated by over 115% within the last 30 years, leading to some dire consequences for the environment, wildlife, and potentially even humans.
What are microplastics, and how do they get on the beach?
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic. Generally, they are smaller than five millimeters in length, and some pieces are microscopic. They are most often created when larger pieces of plastic in the ocean break down, persisting for hundreds of years, or as byproducts of industrial processes.
The primary way that microplastics arrive on the beach is through runoff from stormwater. During rainfall, the water runs over streets and sidewalks, carrying ocean-bound plastic residue, including microplastics. In addition, microplastics can make their way to the beach via wind or direct littering.
What are the effects of microplastics on the environment and marine animals?
Because microplastics are so tiny, they are often ingested by marine animals accidentally. As a result, it can lead to various negative effects on their health, such as blockages or starvation. The research found that between 20 and 40% of fish now have microplastics in their guts in some parts of the world.
By extension, microplastics also accumulate within the atmosphere and the soil surrounding the beach. Ultimately this leads to longer-term damage to wildlife and the environment. Moreover, it affects the ecosystem by allowing toxins, which bind to plastics, to move up the food chain, which negatively affects us in the long term.
What can be done about the situation?
A critical step we can take to reduce the amount of microplastics on the beach is to raise awareness of the problem. This includes the need to reduce plastic consumption at home so that it doesn’t wind up in our watersheds. Campaigns that educate the public of the consequences of littering are crucial, and everyone can make an effort to pick up litter when they see it.
Furthermore, organizations should push for legislation that will reduce plastic packaging and its associated contaminants overall. The development of new environmentally friendly alternatives must be a priority that organizations strive for. Recycling initiatives should also be improved and recognized so that recycling becomes a better solution than dumping plastic waste into the sea.
While plastic pollution on beaches is unfortunately ubiquitous, it’s essential to remember that increasing microplastics pollution not only threatens marine life and the environment, but it has real implications on human health, like disrupting the ocean’s natural food chain.
The findings of the research only go towards further raising awareness of the issue, serving as a wake-up call for action amongst nations and individuals alike. Through collaborative effort, legislative action, and recycling initiatives, we can all contribute towards the reduction of microplastics pollution, helping to safeguard the environment and the animals who call it home.
1. What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, often five millimeters in length or less, created as a result of the ocean wind or industrial processes.
2. How do microplastics end up on beaches?
Stormwater runoff is the most common way based on Nature Sustainability Study results. Still, wind and littering contribute to the pollution of beaches.
3. What kind of problems do microplastics create?
Microplastics can affect marine animals when ingested, leading to negative health consequences like starvation and long-term dietary contamination for humans.
4. How can the problem be reduced?
Reducing plastic consumption through different campaigns and regulations, legislating new environmentally friendly alternatives, and improving recycling initiatives. Ultimately, awareness is key.