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For Immediate Release, August 22, 2012

Contact: Emily Jeffers, (415) 632-5309

Petition Filed to Save Birds, Sea Turtles, Seals From Deadly Plastic Pollution

Hundreds of Thousands of Sea Animals Killed Each Year by Discarded Bags, Lids, Straws and Other Plastics

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency today to take new steps to curb plastic pollution in our oceans that kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds, endangered sea turtles, rare seals and other marine species each year. Roughly 40 percent of the world’s oceans are covered in giant, swirling convergences of garbage, including billions of pounds of plastic. Today’s legal petition to the EPA seeks new plastic pollution limits for oceans under the Clean Water Act.

Seal tangled in plastic
Photo courtesy Ewan Edwards/The Clipperton Project. Photos are available for media use.

“Plastics are an everyday convenience for us but a daily death sentence for seabirds, seals, sea turtles and hundreds of other ocean species,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center  attorney. “Our oceans are littered with grocery bags, drink lids, water bottles and candy wrappers. It’s time for the EPA to step in and finally address this crisis.”

More plastic has been produced in the past decade than over the entire past century; much of it ends up in the ocean. In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments — like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day. Much of that plastic goes into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of debris that spreads across 276,263 square miles — an area larger than the state of Texas.

Plastic pollution has deadly consequences for at least 267 marine species, including endangered animals like Pacific loggerhead turtles, Steller sea lions and Hawaiian monk seals, which number around 1,000 in the wild.

  • Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals.
  • Sea turtles also mistake floating plastic garbage for food. While plastic bags are the most commonly ingested item, loggerhead sea turtles have been found with soft plastic, ropes, Styrofoam, and monofilament lines in their stomachs. Ingestion of plastic can lead to blockage in the gut, ulceration, internal perforation and death.
  • Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. The plastic reduces the storage volume of their stomachs, meaning they consume less food and ultimately starve. Nearly all Laysan albatross chicks — 97.5 percent — have plastic pieces in their stomachs; their parents feed them plastic particles mistaken for food.
  • Marine mammals ingest and get tangled in plastic. Large amounts of plastic debris have been found in the habitat of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, including in areas that serve as pup nurseries. Entanglement deaths severely undermine recovery efforts of this seal, which is already on the brink of extinction. Entanglement in plastic debris, especially packing bands, has also led to injury and mortality in the endangered Steller sea lion. In 2008 two sperm whales were found stranded along the California coast with large amounts of fishing net scraps, rope and other plastic debris in their stomachs.

Today’s petition seeks criteria to limit visible plastic pollution in oceans to zero and set strict limits on small plastic items in our oceans and on our beaches. Under the Clean Water Act, states must adopt water-quality standards recommended by the EPA and identify waters that do not attain those standards. This can result in better monitoring, assessment and cleanup of plastic in our waters. States like California and Hawaii have already taken action to control trash under the Clean Water Act, and plastic standards would cause other states to follow suit.

”This isn’t rocket science: If we want healthy sea life, we need to keep garbage out of our oceans,” Jeffers said. “We can make it happen, but it’s got to become a national priority. We’re hoping this petition will jumpstart the process.”

For more information about plastics and to download the petition with sources for the facts above, please see our Web page on ocean plastics pollution.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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