Plastic pollution of coastal zones

Other Names:
Ocean plastic refuse
Plastic waste in the seas
Plastic debris in oceans
Marine plastic pollution

A team of international researchers led by Cornell University found out that plastic waste drifting in the ocean can adversely impact the corals it gets tangled with, as the material provides a favorable environment for microbial colonization. 

“Plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals,” she continued. This is associated with the globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes.”  If a plastic latches itself onto a coral, it becomes prone to disease. In particular, the study reported that once this happens, the likelihood of the coral to get a disease increases by 20 times.

the amount of plastic that will impact the marine environment will skyrocket to 15.7 billion items, which will ultimately affect corals the world over. When this happens, the effects will not only be felt by the tourism industry but by those in fishing and coastal protection as well – a combined net worth of $357 billion in goods and services provided.


As many as 100,000 marine mammals die each year as a result of ingesting plastic, and members of over 50 species of seabird, many already endangered, have died after ingesting plastic pellets. 100 million lbs of plastic trash enter the world's oceans each year, not including lost fishing nets and other gear. The 70,000 ships in the world fleet dump up to 640,000 plastic containers daily, about 10% of the total, as part of the six million tonnes of solid waste attributed to ships each year.

It is estimated that 8m tonnes of plastic waste finds its way in to the ocean each year.  Plastic is notoriously difficult to remove cannot be destroyed (except by incineration). The impacts are increasingly apparent: great rafts of plastic are congregating in ocean gyres, blame games have broken out between neighbouring countries, and marine species face poisoning from the associated toxins.  There may even be direct risks for humans, especially the 400m or so poor people who depend critically on fish for their food; nano-plastics are in most marine food, especially filter feeders like mussels and oysters.


China is the biggest emitter of plastic marine litter and along with the US and India has a very large plastic manufacturing sector.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 14: Life Below Water
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
23.04.2019 – 14:24 CEST