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Many marine animals eat plastic, now we know why

Posted: 1:32 PM, Nov 10, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-10 13:32:42-05

A lot of plastic  ends up in our oceans every year, and animals love to eat it.

For a long time, scientists just assumed the animals ate the plastic because it looked like food. But it turns out,  it smells  like food, too.

SEE MORE: Our oceans are littered with trash, here's how we could fix it 

In fact, it smells so enticing that  90 percent  of seabirds eat it right now. And by 2050, nearly all of them are expected to dine on it.

When algae coats plastic in the ocean, it gives off the same smell it would have if animals like krill were eating it. Since the birds like to eat krill, they're attracted to the smell of the algae. 

It's not just seabirds that are eating plastic. Over  700 species  have been seen eating it. And every year, over  100,000  marine animals die from it.

One of the big problems with plastic is that it doesn't decompose. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller chunks as it's weathered by the elements.

SEE MORE: These Six-Pack Rings Feed Sea Animals Instead Of Trapping Them

When an animal eats those chunks, plastic can stay in the animal's system for a long time because its stomach doesn't break the plastic down.

This discovery could help make  plastic safer  for marine animals. But the bigger problem is still  the amount  of plastic 8 million tons that gets dumped into Earth's oceans each year. 


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