It was by far one of the awful things shown on TV. A dead whale lay at the shores of a plastic-infested ocean. The whale was cut open, and there were a lot of plastic materials found inside it. That's, of course, aside from the thousands of saprophytic worms also found inside. The cause of the whale's death is probably the plastic materials it ingested. Heck, how did we get here? Let's go back in time, shall we?
How it all began
It started about a hundred years ago when Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite (a type of plastic). Thanks to scientific innovations in the 20th century, upgrades were made to Bakelite such as polystyrene, PVC, and nylon. The production of Bakelite made plastics a part of our daily lifestyle, from the clothes we wear down to our food containers.
Bakelite proved to be very durable, and so it received widespread use. Guess what though, the property that we considered an advantage then- its durability- has now become a vast source of challenge to us in the 21st century. How so, you may wonder?
Plastics are not biodegradable, which means that instead of decomposing, they've been accumulating in the environment over the last 100years. In fact, it was said that about 8 million tonnes of plastics go into the water bodies annually, according to a study in Science Magazine in 2015. That's a lot if you think about it.
Pay attention here: even though plastics are not biodegradable, they can undergo various physical transformations – such as photodegradation – which breaks them down to smaller particles while still retaining their natural properties.
An example is microplastics which is typically sized between 5 millimetres and 10 nanometres. Put plainly; it is tiny. A single piece of synthetic clothing washed releases about 1,900 plastic microfibres into the water.
These microfibres are removed from the washing machine and directed to sewage plants. Since the fibres are too small to be filtered out of our wastewater systems, large quantities of them end up in our water bodies.
Here's where it gets more frightening. Recent research showed that over time, these microplastics get covered by a layer of algae. This makes them smell like and look nutritious foods to particular aquatic creatures. Since the sea animals are unable to tell the difference, they give in to its allure- they gobble them up. Yes, they eat plastic!
Plastic in Seafood
Like we said earlier, microfibers are about five millimetres in range, so aquatic organisms easily ingest them. But then it's not only small marine organisms that eat plastic. Hey, remember the story of the whale we shared at the beginning of this piece? That's some proof.
Still want proof, in a study carried out by Plymouth University in August 2017, plastic was found in one-third of aquatic organisms caught in the United Kingdom. How's that for alarming?! Earlier researchers had thought that these plastics would be totally removed from the gut of fishes during the cleaning process. This has been proved to be partially true.
The plastics sometimes move from the digestive tract to the surrounding tissues, the meat. And when we, seafood lovers eat the flesh of some of this seafood, we just might be joining the plastic-eating party. This can harm humans. Hold on, hold on, there's good news…
What's the Goodnews?
The good news is, the human race is up to the task. Think about it; we invented electric cars to reduce the burning of fossil fuels which was destroying our (earth's) ozone layer. Similarly, actions are being taken by scientists and government organizations to reduce the use of plastics and thereby eliminate the negative effect of plastics on human health.
Individual companies have switched from using plastic to paper on in their packaging. You've probably noticed this at your favourite grocery stores.
What's our point? Plastics getting into your sea organisms shouldn't discourage you from eating your delicious seafood, WE ARE UP TO THIS CHALLENGE! And oh, the next time you're buying seafood, feel free to ask your chef, hope this well-sourced from the cleanest waters.