IMPACT
05/04/2017 10:13 am ET Updated May 12, 2017

Heartbreaking Photos Show What Your Trash Does To Animals

They mistake it for food, they get tangled in it, they die from it.

This story is part of a series on ocean plastics.

At least 8 million tons of plastics wind up in the oceans each year ― that’s like dumping the contents of a garbage truck into marine waters every minute. This trash ― be it bottle caps, balloons or fishing twine ― can take a toll on marine life. 

When animals find plastic refuse floating around in the ocean, they can mistake it for food and eat it. Over time, if they eat enough, they can begin to feel full and die of malnutrition. They can also get entangled in discarded packaging materials or abandoned fishing gear, leading to injury and sometimes death.

There isn’t reliable data on how many animals are harmed by ocean pollution each year, but a study from 2015 ― which found incidences of around 44,000 animals becoming entangled in or swallowing debris since the 1960s ― is thought by its authors to “underestimate” the problem. 

Check out the gallery below to see heartbreaking images of animals harmed by plastic trash:

  • Turtle with plastic around its shell.
    Turtle with plastic around its shell.
  • A dead albatross chick with plastic marine debris in its stomach. Photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
    A dead albatross chick with plastic marine debris in its stomach. Photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean in September 2009.
  • Blue striped grunt fish caught in red plastic band in Caribbean Sea.
    Karen Doody/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images
    Blue striped grunt fish caught in red plastic band in Caribbean Sea.
  • Bird appearing to be strangled by a balloon string.
    Pamela Denmon USFWS
    Bird appearing to be strangled by a balloon string.
  • Shark with debris in its mouth.
    Shark with debris in its mouth.
  • Cape fur seal that died of suffocation from plastic around its neck.
    Martin Harvey via Getty Images
    Cape fur seal that died of suffocation from plastic around its neck.
  • Bird caught in plastic debris.
    Bird caught in plastic debris.
  • Green sea turtle entangled in debris -- for air-breathing organisms, debris entanglement can prevent animals from being able
    Green sea turtle entangled in debris -- for air-breathing organisms, debris entanglement can prevent animals from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown.
  • Lemon shark with plastic bag caught around its gills in the Bahamas.
    Jonathan Bird via Getty Images
    Lemon shark with plastic bag caught around its gills in the Bahamas.
  • Northern elephant seal with plastic scar on Guadalupe Island in Mexico.
    Kevin Schafer via Getty Images
    Northern elephant seal with plastic scar on Guadalupe Island in Mexico.
  • Scientist reveals the plastic bags pulled from the intestines of a beached goose-beaked whale in Norway
    Scientist reveals the plastic bags pulled from the intestines of a beached goose-beaked whale in Norway
  • Bao XiShun, the world's tallest man, retrieves plastic from the stomach of a sick dolphin as workers hold back its jaws
    VCG via Getty Images
    Bao XiShun, the world's tallest man, retrieves plastic from the stomach of a sick dolphin as workers hold back its jaws at an aquarium in Fushun, China, in 2006. Xishun came to the rescue of two sick dolphins after they had swallowed plastic from their pool and vets were unable to reach it to remove it.
  • Sea turtle that ingested a balloon.
    Sea turtle that ingested a balloon.
  • NOAA divers release seal from marine debris entanglement, which can lead to injury or death in marine animals.
    NOAA divers release seal from marine debris entanglement, which can lead to injury or death in marine animals.
  • Stork covered in a plastic bag in Spain.
    Getty Images
    Stork covered in a plastic bag in Spain.
  • A deceased Laysan Albatross lies on the ground in Midway Atoll, with an exposed stomach filled with debris it consumed around
    A deceased Laysan Albatross lies on the ground in Midway Atoll, with an exposed stomach filled with debris it consumed around its coastal habitat. Marine animals cannot digest debris and often die due to starvation.

There are some small ways you can help curb the amount of plastic you waste on a daily basis: Start by consuming fewer single-use items ― like drinking straws and takeout containers ― and recycle what you do use. 

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