As part of my individual research project associated with going to Puerto Rico, I conducted a study on marine debris at the sites we went to. The other students and myself spent a period of time picking up trash from the beaches. I was amazed at the stuff we found! Lots of plastic straws, plastic cups, beer bottles and cans, wrappers of all kinds! I even brought a mesh bag with me when snorkeling to collect debris from the ocean as it floated or tumbled around on the bottom in the currents. I was amazed to see that there was a significant amount of trash located at a marine protected area where there were strict laws on littering.
Although the worst was the high traffic tourist destination with lots of food venders. We found hundreds of pieces of trash and we had only spent 10 minutes collecting pieces! A total of 984 pieces of debris was found at this site! A lot of those pieces were cigarette buts. I wonder if people know that the filter in cigarettes is actually made of plastic, so it doesn't break down as fast as the paper roll. Plastic can stay in the environment for THOUSANDS of years because it doesn't break down, it just degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces become microplastics. Tiny fish larvae eat these microplastics and little fish eat them, bigger fish eat them, then we eat the fish. These plastics have been found in the intestines of large whales! The digestive system doesn't break these down.
My short-study research paper on this subject has really inspired me to think about this growing problem and I am looking forward to hopefully continuing this topic of research as I enter my final year of undergraduate study.