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Scientists stunned by disturbing discovery after shark washes up on beach: 'We are not immune to it'

"This stopped the water flow over the gills and therefore oxygen uptake."

“This stopped the water flow over the gills and therefore oxygen uptake."

Photo Credit: iStock

Plastic pollution claimed the life of yet another marine animal last September — this time a baby reef shark off the coast of the Grand Cayman island in the Caribbean.

What happened?

According to Dr. Johanna Kohler, a marine biologist and a shark project officer for the Cayman Islands Government, the animal was just a month old and died from suffocation after getting stuck in a plastic slip-on sandal.

The shark had wedged itself in the footwear, crushing the middle portion of its body and severely restricting its movement. 

"This stopped the water flow over the gills and therefore oxygen uptake," the Cayman Islands Department of Environment said in a Facebook post.

The autopsy that Dr. Kohler performed also revealed that the shark only had some sand and a tiny worm in its stomach, implying that starvation could have played a role in its demise.

Why is the shark's death concerning?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers Caribbean reef sharks an endangered species, with its population trending in the wrong direction.

This particular shark's death is just one of the thousands of marine animals that die every year from plastic waste in the ocean. 

According to UNESCO, one million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die annually because of plastic ingestion or entanglement.

Mortality statistics might continue to rise, as UNESCO estimates that 8.8-11 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year, adding to the 50-75 trillion pieces of macro and microplastics already in the sea.

What's being done?

Plastic Free Cayman is an environmental conservation nonprofit that organizes beach cleanup events and raises awareness about the harmful effects of plastic consumption on the Cayman Islands.

"Global plastic pollution is horrific and we are not immune to it on our paradise island," says the program's website. "It's going to take a global effort and local action to make a difference."

Proactive measures that can be taken at home include replacing single-use plastics like water bottles and lunch bags with reusable, eco-friendly alternatives. While the upfront cost might be a little higher, the long-term effects for your wallet and the environment far outweigh that.

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