Effects of marine debris on marine life

  • Image, Marine debris.

    Marine debris is a global issue with adverse effects for marine and coastal environments. However, marine debris is poorly monitored at a national level. We report on some relevant local studies that have been conducted.

    We classified Effects of marine debris on marine life as supporting information.

    Key findings

    The presence of plastic debris in New Zealand waters poses a risk to marine species.

    • In 2006, rates of fur seal and sea lion entanglement in human debris around the Kaikoura area were among the highest rates reported in the world (Boren et al, 2006).
    • High densities of plastics near seabird burrows suggest that plastic ingestion could be a serious problem for seabirds such as flesh-footed shearwaters (Buxton et al, 2013).
    • Research suggests 92 percent of contact between marine species and debris involve plastic materials (Gall & Thompson, 2015).

    Definition and methodology

    This supporting information cites research assessing the potential effects of marine debris, particularly plastics. The possible effects include:

    • seabirds or marine mammals becoming entangled in or ingesting debris, leading to the death of foraging adults or young
    • plastics entering the food chain
    • the destruction of marine habitats, and adverse effects on the amenity values of coastal and marine environments
    • the transport and release of chemicals contained in plastics or accumulated in the ocean, or discharged from land to marine habitats
    • the transport and introduction of invasive species
    • plastics and other marine debris becoming navigational hazards that may damage hulls and disable the cooling and propulsion systems of marine vehicles (Baird et al, 2012; Derraik, 2002).

    Data quality

     Topic Classification   Relevance Accuracy 
    Discharges, soil loss, and waste  Supporting information



    See Data quality information for more detail.


    Baird, S, Wood, B, MacDiarmid, A, & Thompson, D (2012). Review of threats to the marine Environment. NIWA report prepared for the Department of Conservation. Available from www.kaiparaharbour.net.nz.

    Boren, LJ, Morrissey, M, Muller, CG, & Gemmell, NJ (2006). Entanglement of New Zealand fur seals in man-made debris at Kaikoura, New Zealand. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52, 442–446. Available from www.sciencedirect.com.

    Buxton, RT, Currey, CA, Lyver, POB, & Jones, CJ (2013). Incidence of plastic fragments among burrow-nesting seabird colonies on offshore islands in northern New Zealand. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 74, 420–424. Available from www.sciencedirect.com.

    Derraik, J (2002). The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: A review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44, 842–852. Available from www.sciencedirect.com.

    Gall, SC, & Thompson, RC (2015). The impact of debris on marine life. Marine Pollution Bulletin 92(1–2), 170–179. Available from www.sciencedirect.com.

    Archived pages

    See Effects of marine debris on marine life (archived October 2016). 

    Published 21 October 2015

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