Ocean Plastic Pollution
 

English / Español

Plastic is in every part of the ocean, threatening marine wildlife from seabirds to sea turtles.

Scientists estimate up to 90% of seabirds, like this Laysan albatross, have plastic in their stomachs.


The Plastic Pollution Cycle

Plastic is one of the most common materials in our daily lives. We eat and drink from it, buy stuff packaged in it, and even wear clothes made of it. But what happens when it’s no longer useful to us?

If current practices continue, plastic input into the ocean is expected to double by 2025

Since plastic doesn't break down naturally, things that had a useful life of just a few minutes can pollute our ocean for hundreds of years. Some plastic starts out tiny; others begin large, but slowly become smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic bags, cosmetic microbeads and other types of plastic trash have spread throughout the ocean—from the surface to the deepest submarine canyons. Plastic debris is also washing back onto our shores, leaving a mess for our children to clean up.



This makes plastic pollution a major threat to marine wildlife like fish, turtles, seabirds and whales. Not only do animals get tangled in plastic trash like six-pack rings, plastic bags and abandoned fishing nets; they also mistakenly fill their stomachs with plastic instead of food.

Plastic or food? The contents of this tube—which includes a lighter, disposable pencil, cigar tip, plastic bottle cap and fishing lure—came from the stomach of an albatross.

Plastic is made with toxic chemicals such as bisphenol-A, styrene and phthalates. Worse, plastic trash in the ocean acts like a sponge, soaking up pollutants and pesticides from the surrounding seawater. When marine animals eat plastic, they ingest these poisonous cocktails, too. The toxins can concentrate through the food web. Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers and other scientists are only beginning to explore the impacts on ocean wildlife and ecosystems. In the meantime, we’re working to stop the flow of plastic from land to sea.

Luckily, we can take action. By changing policies and our own habits, we can slow the flow of plastic pollution.


What You Can Do

With your help, we can make progress toward a plastic-free ocean.

Southern Sea Otters

Raft of southern sea otters

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Program has been studying the threatened southern sea otter since 1984 with the aim of understanding threats to the population and promoting its recovery. We also rescue, treat and release injured otters; raise and release stranded pups through our surrogate program; and seek homes for sea otters that can't return to the wild.

Sea Otters Under Siege

Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) once ranged from Baja California to the Pacific Northwest. But, by the 1920s, they were almost extinct due to intensive hunting. They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. We and our partners have contributed to the protection of the sea otter population in California.

Recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Aquarium suggests that the sea otter population growth rate is limited by food availability. Meanwhile, the risk of a major oil spill remains a serious threat.

Why Are Sea Otters Important?

Sea otters are an iconic species, representing the beauty and diversity of life in Monterey Bay. They're also a keystone species, determining the kinds and health of species in nearshore environments. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. Without sea otters, urchins prevent kelp forests from forming important habitats for many animals. Similarly, their consumption of crabs in estuaries reduces predation on snails. The snails graze algae that otherwise choke eel grasses.

Sea otters are also good indicators of ocean health. Since they are a top predator of invertebrates along the California coast, changes in their health can make scientists aware of variations in the ocean environment itself.

Sea Otter Recovery

By 1911, when sea otters gained protection under the North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty, a small group of perhaps 50 otters survived along the remote Big Sur coast. Since then, they've slowly expanded their range and grown in number to nearly 3,000. As of 2014, their range extends from south of Half Moon Bay in the north to south of Point Conception in the south—only a small part of their historic range.

Southern Sea Otters

Raft of southern sea otters

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Program has been studying the threatened southern sea otter since 1984 with the aim of understanding threats to the population and promoting its recovery. We also rescue, treat and release injured otters; raise and release stranded pups through our surrogate program; and seek homes for sea otters that can't return to the wild.

Sea Otters Under Siege

Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) once ranged from Baja California to the Pacific Northwest. But, by the 1920s, they were almost extinct due to intensive hunting. They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. We and our partners have contributed to the protection of the sea otter population in California.

Recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Aquarium suggests that the sea otter population growth rate is limited by food availability. Meanwhile, the risk of a major oil spill remains a serious threat.

Why Are Sea Otters Important?

Sea otters are an iconic species, representing the beauty and diversity of life in Monterey Bay. They're also a keystone species, determining the kinds and health of species in nearshore environments. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. Without sea otters, urchins prevent kelp forests from forming important habitats for many animals. Similarly, their consumption of crabs in estuaries reduces predation on snails. The snails graze algae that otherwise choke eel grasses.

Sea otters are also good indicators of ocean health. Since they are a top predator of invertebrates along the California coast, changes in their health can make scientists aware of variations in the ocean environment itself.

Sea Otter Recovery

By 1911, when sea otters gained protection under the North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty, a small group of perhaps 50 otters survived along the remote Big Sur coast. Since then, they've slowly expanded their range and grown in number to nearly 3,000. As of 2014, their range extends from south of Half Moon Bay in the north to south of Point Conception in the south—only a small part of their historic range.