How Plastic Bags Kill in the Marine Environment

Published: 31st October 2008
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In the article on how plastic bags affect the environment, we talked about how these bags can be a menace to innocent animals and even babies. In this article we have illustrated just how this happens.

First let's take the marine environment which seems to be at the greatest risk from these bags. Some of the animals that are killed by ingesting this plastic are whales, seals and turtles. These bags when in the water seem to take a life of their own and appear like moving food to hungry marine life. Turtles commonly mistake them for jellyfish.

Once a plastic bag is swallowed, it is not digested like other food. It gets trapped within the gastric tube, not allowing any other food to go down. This results in starvation. In the case of turtles, the threat is higher because turtles don't have the mechanism to regurgitate what they have swallowed. The downward facing spines in their throats prevent the bag from coming out, instead tangling it even more. Food trapped in the gut causes gases to accumulate in the body cavity of the animal, making them float and unable to search for food in deep waters. It even makes them easy prey for secondary predators.

Plastic bags are so persistent even in the gut of an animal. For instance, if the animal that has swallowed the bag is eaten by another animal, the second animal too will be at risk of choking on the plastic. If the animal that swallowed the plastic bag dies in the water, its body decomposes but the plastic is released back into the water where it can kill again.

There are many examples of such sad stories. In 2002, a minke whale was beached in France having eaten almost a kilogram of plastic bags. The plastic can act like a chemical sponge-it absorbs pollutants in the sea and becomes quite toxic if swallowed. This leads to prolonged suffering and ultimately death.

According to Environment California, about 1 million marine animals are killed every year due to plastic bags. A UN study in 2006 revealed that there is an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean. Even sailors will tell us that plastic bags are the most common artificial item they come across at sea.

It's not only the sea creatures that are threatened by plastic bags. Birds and insects are trapped by bags carried by the wind. They have also known to kill livestock. In Australia, a farmer once found 8 plastic bags in the stomach of a calf that died suddenly. has been helping provide moms and women with information on everyday matters and important issues. Our BizyMoms Cares- Conservation section provides you with information and tips on plastic bags and how we can conserve our environment.

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