From Sea to Sea. Marine debris – plastics, metals, glass, and other solid waste materials that enter the ocean environment – can be found virtually everywhere in the ocean. 60 to 95 percent of it is plastic.
Animals trying to avoid ocean plastic have to navigate a minefield. Eighteen billion pounds of it flows into the ocean every year, making it difficult for animals, like jellyfish, to avoid.
Past studies have shown that marine animals accidentally consuming plastic debris is a widespread problem. Scientists think animals consume it because it resembles their prey: turtles eat jellyfish-like plastic bags, and fish eat small rice-sized plastic that resembles their normal food.
Ocean plastic also smells appetizing to some marine critters. In 2016, a study in the journal Science Advances found that algae easily grows on ocean plastic, and as it breaks down, it emits an odor called dimethyl sulfide that attracts hungry animals.
It’s a complicated problem, of which researchers are still trying to grasp the scale.
“If we want to understand the fate of plastic in the ocean, we have to start at the bottom of the food chain.”