Debris of plastic and glass in the ocean has been having a life-threatening global impact on marine life and nearly 700 species of marine animals have been recorded as having encountered man-made debris, reveals the most comprehensive impact study in more than a decade.
Researchers at Plymouth University found evidence of 44,000 animals and organisms becoming entangled in, or swallowing debris, from reports recorded from across the globe.
Plastic accounted for nearly 92 percent of cases, and 17 percent of all species involved were found to be threatened or near threatened on the IUCN Red List, including the Hawaiian monk seal, the loggerhead turtle and sooty shearwater.
Authors Sarah Gall and Professor Richard Thompson presented evidence collated from a wide variety of sources on instances of entanglement, ingestion, physical damage to ecosystems, and rafting - where species are transported by debris.
Gall said that the impact of debris on marine life could be wide reaching, with the consequence of ingestion and entanglement considered to be harmful. Reports in the literature began in the 1960s with fatalities being well documented for birds, turtles, fish and marine mammals.
Altogether, they found that 693 species had been documented as having encountered debris, with nearly 400 involving entanglement and ingestion. These incidents had occurred around the world, but were most commonly reported off the east and west coasts of North America, as well as Australia and Europe.
Plastic fragments were the highest recorded substance for ingestion, with the green sea turtle and northern fulmar again, the Laysan albatross, the Californian seal lion, the Atlantic puffin, and the greater shearwater among the worst affected species.
Gall said that more than half of all species of marine mammal and seabird had been affected by marine debris - and that number has risen since the last major study with nearly 80 percent of entanglement cases resulting in direct harm or death.
Professor Richard Thompson, who is acknowledged as one of the world's leading experts on microplastics in the marine environment, said that with 17 percent of all species reported in the paper as near threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, it was evident that marine debris may be contributing to the potential for species extinction.
The paper is published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.