Water is a key ingredient in our survival, however, we are currently creating a recipe for disaster.
Did you know Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada sits right on the shores of the 14th largest lake in the world and one of the five Great Lakes? Lake Ontario is home to 1 in 4 Canadians and provides drinking water to over 9 million people. But, did you also know that the amount of plastic pollution entering Lake Ontario last year equates to enough plastic bottles to fill 28 Olympic-sized swimming pools(1)?!
Most of the pollution that enters our waterways is a result of domestic use – specifically single use disposables, such as straws, cups, lids, take-out containers and plastic cutlery. From all sources, a whopping 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters our Great Lakes every year(1).
The real kicker is that plastic does not ever biodegrade in our environment. Instead, it continues to slowly break down into smaller pieces called microplastics, (any piece of plastic smaller than 5 millimetres). Microplastics essentially consist of all forms of plastic – synthetic fibers, fragments of plastic, foam bits and microbeads.
Because of their tiny size, microplastics avoid filtration from city water systems and end up being flushed directly into our natural waterways.
This is where wildlife is exposed to the pollution which results in accidental ingestion – commonly mistaken as prey.
Making ingestion worse, plastic is comprised of crude oil and carbon-containing compounds referred to as polymers and monomers. The chemical makeup allows it to absorb chemicals found in the natural environment. Then, after it is unknowingly consumed by wildlife, the chemicals leach into the tissue of animals.
While plastic itself is classified as non-hazardous, the transfer of chemicals from plastic to animal tissue and then up the food chain can have disastrous effects.
And don’t think humans are exempt from the issue! With the consumption of seafood, we are at risk of ingesting those toxic chemicals as well.
Realizing the prevalence of microbeads and the detrimental effects of microplastics on the environment, the Government of Ontario has recently taken legislative action! Following common phase-out timelines, the use of microbeads in the production of personal care products such as toothpaste, face scrubs and cosmetics will be banned by December 2017(2).
But, while these are excellent steps in the right direction, they are not the entire solution. There are many other things you can do to ‘kelp’ us protect our waterways and the animals that swim in it. For example,
- Buy a reusable water bottle
- #BanTheBead and say no to microbeads before legislation
- Say NO to single use plastics
- The 3Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle
Together, we can all make a difference and help keep Lake Ontario, and the many other waterways on this planet we call home, clean!
Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!
Hoffman, M.J. and E. Hittinger. (2017). Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 115(1-2):273-281. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezpxy.fanshawec.ca/science/article/pii/S0025326X1630981X
Ontario. (2016). Microplastics and microbeads. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/microplastics-and-microbeads
Penny photo – http://oceans.mit.edu/news/featured-stories/269000-tons-plastic-ocean-now-dr-marcus-eriksen
Bird photo – http://www.plasticgarbageproject.org/en/plastic-garbage/problems/effects-on-the-animal-world/