Marine Trash is Impacting Endangered Species Globally

First Posted: Feb 19, 2015 11:31 AM EST

Trash enters our world's oceans in unprecedented amounts each year. Now, though, researchers have taken a closer look at the impact of manmade debris on marine species. Not only is there a global effect, but endangered species may be being hit the hardest.

"The impact of debris on marine life is of particular concern, and effects can be wide reaching, with the consequence of ingestion and entanglement considered to be harmful," said Sarah Gall, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Reports in the literature began in the 1960s with fatalities being well documented for birds, turtles, fish and marine mammals."

In order to assess the impacts of marine trash on animals, the researchers collected evidence from a wide variety of sources on instances of entanglement, ingestion, physical damage to ecosystems and rafting. They found that 693 species had been documented as having encountered debris; nearly 400 species were involved in entanglement and ingestion. While these instances occurred throughout the world, they were most commonly reported off of the east and west coasts of North America as well as Australia and Europe.

Plastic accounted for nearly 92 percent of cases. In addition 17 percent of all species involved were either threatened or near threatened on the IUCN Red List; species included the Hawaiian monk seal, the loggerhead turtle and the sooty shearwater.

"We found that all known species of sea turtle, and more than half of all species of marine mammal and seabird had been affected by marine debris-and that number has risen since the last major study," said Gall. "And in nearly 80 percent of entanglement cases this had resulted in direct harm or death."

The findings reveal just have large of a problem marine debris is. This is of particular concern when it comes to the conservation of marine species.

The findings are published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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