By: Dianna Parker
Marine debris impacts many species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including species of sea turtles, whales, seals, and even corals. These fragile populations face a variety of stressors in the ocean from humans, derelict fishing gear, trash, and other debris.
Derelict fishing nets or other synthetic debris in the ocean often entangles animals, leaving them wounded, unable to hunt or swim. Heavy nets and other gear can crush coral and degrade habitat.
And many species mistake plastic for food. All seven species of sea turtles eat marine debris – plastic bags in particular. In August 2014, a dead endangered sei whale washed ashore in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and researchers found a broken CD case in its stomach. Recent research shows we are putting eight million metric tons of plastic into the ocean.
Here are a few photos of these impacts:
The good news is, we can help protect endangered and threatened species from these impacts by paying a little extra attention to our waste.
This Endangered Species Day, everyone can recommit to using less single-use plastic items, recycling plastics, or reminding friends and family that releasing balloons into the air can harm sea life.
Fishermen can dispose of old, unwanted fishing gear through programs like Fishing for Energy or Reel in and Recycle. In the meantime, there are groups all over the world working to prevent gear loss, through collaboration and innovation.
Or, help us spread awareness, especially to youth. We provide activities and curriculum that can help educate youth on marine debris and inspire ocean stewardship.
(Also, don’t forget to take a look at NOAA’s “Species in the Spotlight.” According to our colleagues at NOAA Fisheries, “of all the species NOAA protects under the ESA, we consider eight among the most at risk of extinction in the near future.”)