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Resources on Plastics in the Environment (June 2022): Harms to Nonhuman Animals

By Margaret Manion

Harms to Nonhuman Animals

Much of the harm to animals caused by plastic comes in one of three categories: entanglement, ingestion, or interaction. Entanglement happens when an animal is trapped in a plastic material, and as a result may be unable to capture food, swallow, move around, reproduce, or grow normally. Although many plastic items may entangle animals, the most common is fishing gear, including the so-called ghost fishing gear, which, when discarded in the marine environment, is known to entrap fish, turtles, and other marine organisms. Some entangled animals die a painful slow death as such gear restrains movement, cuts into tissue, or even severs body parts. Although the effects of plastic waste on animals is now a popular topic for children’s books, there is a relative dearth of books devoted to this subject for adults. Yet, with its many striking color photographs and other informative illustrations, Plastic Soup by Michael Abbing is a highly readable account of marine plastic pollution that highlights especially its harms to wildlife. While acknowledging the magnitude of the problem and deadly consequences for wildlife, Abbing also presents a positive message highlighting efforts to raise awareness and decrease plastic waste. Although harm to animals is not the main subject of Peak Plastic, author Jack Buffington points out that while estimates of the numbers of species adversely affected by plastic waste has ranged between 600 and 1300, the actual number may be much higher, remaining obscure because we lack full knowledge of the ocean environment. Buffington suggests that the number of marine animals apt to confuse plastic with food may exceed the number that do not.

Works Cited