Water pollution
A man approaches a river filled with debris in ManilaNoel Celis/AFP/Getty

Around eight million tonnes of plastic washes into our seas every year, polluting our waterways and threatening our marine ecosystem. The scale of contamination is immense, stretching across all our planet's oceans from the equator to the polar regions. Plastics, from bags to bottles, also litter our beaches - affecting the health and well-being of animals, plants and humans.

This year's theme for World Oceans Day, marked on 8 June, is "healthy oceans, healthy planet" - to raise awareness of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on our wildlife, climate and health.

What is plastic pollution?

Millions of tonnes of plastic debris such as bags, bottles and food packaging enters our oceans annually. As plastic degrades slowly, it pollutes our seas for a long period, breaking down over time into fragments called micro-plastics. Living organisms are also affected badly by the waste, as they ingest it, become tangled or their biological functions are affected by the exposure to chemicals in the plastic.

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In a United Nations report published in May, scientists warned the chemicals in the plastic - or the chemicals which are attracted to the plastic in the natural environment - could lead to poisoning, infertility and genetic disruption in marine life and potentially humans if ingested in high quantities.

Even the smallest pieces of plastic can have a disastrous impact on our seas. Microbeads, made from polyethylene or other petrochemical plastics, are found in thousands of cosmetic and domestic products from toothpastes to household cleaners. Small enough to wash down the sink and breach water filtration systems, hundreds of thousands of microbeads end up in the ocean where they are ingested by marine creatures.

World Oceans Day
Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every yearJoe Raedle/Getty