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Trash Talk: Dealing with Marine Plastic Pollution in Sri Lanka’s Oceans

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Trash Talk: Dealing with Marine Plastic Pollution in Sri Lanka’s Oceans

Dinushka Paranavitana - 30 Apr 2019

If current marine plastic pollution trends continue, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by 2050, predicts the World Economic Forum report The New Plastics Economy. The Ocean Conservancy estimates that over 150 million metric tons of plastic are currently circulating in the ocean, while another eight million metric tons are added annually. The study emphasises the severity of this issue, equating it to dumping a truckload of plastic into the ocean every minute, of every day, for a year. In 2016, South Asia generated 26 million tonnes of plastic waste and unsurprisingly, this has led to the creation of a “dead zone” – an area where oxygen levels are too low to sustain marine life – in the Bay of Bengal.

Marine plastic pollution originates partly from waste dumped by marine vessels and offshore gas/oil rigs, but a vast majority, almost 80% is from land-based sources. This blog argues that the solution to the rising problem of land-based marine plastic pollution in Sri Lanka is a combined force of banning single-use plastics, proper waste management, and the use of sustainable ecofriendly alternatives.

Health Risks of Plastic Pollution

A grave consequence of marine plastic pollution is that many marine species become victims, often ingesting plastic debris that harm or kill them. This also transfers harmful chemicals and microplastics to humans, as approximately around 3 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. A Belgian studycalculated that consumers of shellfish could be eating almost 11,000 plastic fragments annually, while another study identified that one third of UK’s fish contain some form of plastic. This threat is not limited to Europe; contaminated fish have been found across the globe from the Americas to Asia, indicating that this is a pertinent global issue. Studies have also shown the presence of microplastics in Sri Lankan oceans.

Moreover, humans are also absorbing other toxic substances, such as metals and pesticides, that easily latch on to the surface of plastics. Often, marine creatures are unable to distinguish between plastic and food, while new research shows that plastics attract a form of algae growth that is an alluring meal for sea creatures. Many of the chemicals identified, accumulated on microplastics, pose a significant threat to human health, affecting the functions of the liver, kidneys, and endocrine glands, in addition to being carcinogens.

Impact on Sri Lanka

This issue is a cause for concern for the island nation, as a significant population are dependent on the fisheries industry for their livelihoods. Approximately 221,000 fishermen contribute to around US$ 130 million worth of fish exports, making up 1.3% of the country’s GDP. The Ministry of Fisheries reports that there has been a rise in the per capita consumption of fish by local consumers and that fish contributes to around 55% of total protein consumed in the country. The report predicts a 2.4% growth in the consumption of fish among locals citing the nutritional benefits of fish consumption with Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins D and B2, and Calcium.

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