Ocean plastic pollution costing marine economy up to $2.5bn every year
Plastic pollution is costing the marine economy up to $2.5bn (£2.2bn) every year through negative impacts on fisheries, tourism and other services and goods derived from the sea.
That is according to a study led by scientists at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, which calculated that every tonne of plastic entering the ocean results in a reduction of up to $33,000 in environmental value.
Overall, they estimated that ocean plastic pollution leads to a 1-5% decline in marine ecosystem service delivery.
“Our calculations are a first stab at ‘putting a price on plastic’, but we are convinced they are an underestimate of the real costs to global human society,” study lead author, Dr Nicola Beaumont, said.
“This study shows that, while we should be concerned about ecological impacts, we should equally be worried about the economic and societal consequences which relate directly to our own health and wellbeing.”
Scientists from the Universities of Stirling and Surrey in the UK, and the Arctic University of Norway, assisted in the ocean plastic research.
They found that the three marine services most at risk from plastic pollution are the provision of fisheries, aquaculture and material for agricultural, heritage, culture and emotional importance, and experiential recreation and tourism.
All the organisms studied were negatively impacted by plastic, from charismatic sea mammals and birds, to tiny zooplankton that feed other species above them in the food web.
The only two ecological groups to benefit from marine plastics were bacteria and algae, which the researchers said could be harmful and spread invasive species and diseases around the world.
Beaumont said the findings should help inform policymaking around recycling, and hopefully lead to new incentives that reduce plastic similar to carbon emission trading.
"We hope this study will highlight the reality of the plastic problem in human terms," she continued.
"It’s time this aspect of plastic pollution was part of the global conversation, policymakers and industry need to wake up to this aspect of plastic pollution and begin to make the changes our ocean and our futures need.”
Image credit: iStock
Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM