Story at a glance

  • Oceana researchers found evidence of nearly 1,800 marine animals across 40 species swallowing or becoming entangled in plastic since 2009.
  • Of those animals, 88 percent were species listed as endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Scientists at Oceana said the situation is projected to get much worse if Americans continue to overuse single-use plastics.

Endangered marine mammals and sea turtles are becoming increasingly threatened by the amount of plastic pollution flowing into U.S. waters, a new report finds. 

The report released Thursday by Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organization, surveyed dozens of government agencies, organizations and institutions that collect data on the effects of plastic on marine animals. 


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Researchers found evidence of nearly 1,800 marine animals across 40 species swallowing or becoming entangled in plastic since 2009. Of those animals, 88 percent were species listed as endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act, including manatees, Hawaiian monk seals and all six species of U.S. sea turtle.

The report detailed cases of marine life being harmed by plastics in U.S. waters. In Florida, a sea turtle drowned after a plastic bag filled with sand wrapped around its neck. In Virginia, a sei whale developed gastric ulcers, harming the animal’s ability to find food, after it swallowed a DVD case that lacerated its stomach. In New Jersey, a plastic bag was the only thing found in a dead pygmy sperm whale’s stomach. 

Plastic consumption made up 90 percent of the total animal cases reviewed in the report. Bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting and food wrappers made up the most plastics ingested. The plastic can obstruct the animal’s digestion and lacerate intestines. 

Scientists at Oceana said the situation is projected to get much worse if Americans continue to overuse single-use plastics. 

“This report is merely a snapshot of what’s happening to the animals inhabiting plastic-polluted waters around the United States — imagine how great the numbers would be if they included the animals not observed or documented by humans,” Christy Leavitt, report author and plastics campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement

“Plastic production is expected to quadruple in the coming decades, and if nothing changes, the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean is projected to triple by 2040,” Leavitt said. 

Oceana recommends companies reduce production of plastic and offer plastic-free choices to consumers and governments pass policies to curb plastic use. 

More than 8 million tons of plastic waste makes its way into the oceans every year.


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Published on Nov 19, 2020