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US Marine Animals Are Drowning in Plastic—Literally

Report mentions 1.8K cases of animals consuming or being entangled in plastic since 2009
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 19, 2020 12:54 PM CST

(Newser) – Plastic pollution is taking a disastrous toll on marine animals in the US, particularly those threatened with extinction, according to a new report. It tells of 1,792 cases in which 40 different species of animals consumed or were entangled in plastic since 2009. Of those, 88% involved animals that are endangered or threatened with extinction, including Hawaiian monk seals and all six species of sea turtle found in the US, reports CBS News. Researchers at Oceana collected data from various groups, institutions, and government agencies. But the cases it uncovered—involving zip ties, dental flossers, toothbrushes, straws, balloons, bubble wrap, and sandwich bags—likely represent only a fraction of the true toll. "Imagine how great the numbers would be if they included the animals not observed or documented by humans," says co-author Christy Leavitt.

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About 90% of cases involved consumption. In one example from Delaware, "a young, emaciated pilot whale was found dead with instant-ramen noodle bags in its gut," per CBS. But entanglement also affects animals in "heartbreaking, and sometimes gruesome, ways," per a release. For instance, a sea turtle apparently drowned in Florida after a plastic bag filled with sand got stuck around its neck. Without intervention, this "unfolding disaster" will only get worse, according to researchers. Scientists already estimate that enough plastic to fill two garbage trucks is dumped in the oceans each minute. But Oceana says that amount is set to nearly triple by 2040. There's talk of an international agreement limiting plastic waste, per the Guardian. But though two-thirds of UN member states have expressed interest, the US has not. (There might be a solution.)

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