Ocean Plastic Pollution

English / Español

Plastic is in every part of the ocean, threatening marine wildlife from seabirds to sea turtles.

Scientists estimate up to 90% of seabirds, like this Laysan albatross, have plastic in their stomachs.

The Plastic Pollution Cycle

Plastic is one of the most common materials in our daily lives. We eat and drink from it, buy stuff packaged in it, and even wear clothes made of it. But what happens when it’s no longer useful to us?

If current practices continue, plastic input into the ocean is expected to double by 2025

Since plastic doesn't break down naturally, things that had a useful life of just a few minutes can pollute our ocean for hundreds of years. Some plastic starts out tiny; others begin large, but slowly become smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic bags, cosmetic microbeads and other types of plastic trash have spread throughout the ocean—from the surface to the deepest submarine canyons. Plastic debris is also washing back onto our shores, leaving a mess for our children to clean up.

This makes plastic pollution a major threat to marine wildlife like fish, turtles, seabirds and whales. Not only do animals get tangled in plastic trash like six-pack rings, plastic bags and abandoned fishing nets; they also mistakenly fill their stomachs with plastic instead of food.

Plastic or food? The contents of this tube—which includes a lighter, disposable pencil, cigar tip, plastic bottle cap and fishing lure—came from the stomach of an albatross.

Plastic is made with toxic chemicals such as bisphenol-A, styrene and phthalates. Worse, plastic trash in the ocean acts like a sponge, soaking up pollutants and pesticides from the surrounding seawater. When marine animals eat plastic, they ingest these poisonous cocktails, too. The toxins can concentrate through the food web. Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers and other scientists are only beginning to explore the impacts on ocean wildlife and ecosystems. In the meantime, we’re working to stop the flow of plastic from land to sea.

Luckily, we can take action. By changing policies and our own habits, we can slow the flow of plastic pollution.

What You Can Do

With your help, we can make progress toward a plastic-free ocean.

Raise your voice


Urge decision-makers to help stem the flow.
Ask your elected representatives to reduce the sources of plastic pollution. Speak up for bans on single-use plastics.

Drive the market.
Buy products with non-plastic packaging. Support restaurants that offer biodegradable take-out containers and utensils. Request your drink without a plastic straw. Tell your friends about ocean-healthy businesses.

Pick up the habit of toting your own to-go container, coffee cup, reusable straw and shopping bag.

Encourage waste reduction in your community.
Start a "blue team" to reduce single-use plastic at work. Spark a conversation about zero-waste living on social media. Organize a beach or park clean-up. Think creatively—the possibilities are endless!

Join Monterey Bay Aquarium

When you visit, become a member or donate, you support our work to reduce the sources of ocean plastic pollution. Together, we can make positive changes for the ocean and the animals that call it home—not just today, but for generations to come.

Donate today

Consider the 5 R's


Plastic may seem convenient in the short term, but we can make more thoughtful choices for our planet's future. Here's how:

Rethink your consumption habits and their effects on the ocean.

Refuse single-use plastic you can do without.

Reuse bags, bottles and other products.

Repair things before you replace them.

Recycle what you can, and buy recycled products.

Join Monterey Bay Aquarium

When you visit, become a member or donate, you support our work to reduce the sources of ocean plastic pollution. Together, we can make positive changes for the ocean and the animals that call it home—not just today, but for generations to come.

Donate today


What We're Doing

Here at Monterey Bay Aquarium, we're walking the talk.

  • We're working with 21 leading aquariums nationwide for collective action to reduce the sources of ocean plastic pollution.
  • In 2016, the Aquarium urged California voters to vote yes on Proposition 67, which passed with public support—making California the first state in the nation to ban single-use carryout bags.
  • Our #MyBag #MiBolsa campaign encourages people to carry reusable shopping bags and share their pledge with friends and family.
  • We're reducing the use of plastic in Aquarium operations, including our cafe and retail shops, and stepping up our recycling efforts.
  • We communicate with our visitors through exhibits, programs and volunteer guides about the impacts of ocean plastic pollution, and what each of us can do to help solve the problem.
  • We spark conversations about plastic pollution among our 3 million followers on Twitter, Wordpress, Tumblr, Facebook and other social media channels.
  • We engage with elected officials, advocating for science-based policy action to address the problem of ocean plastic pollution.
  • Our annual Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit prepares teachers to dive into the issue of plastic pollution, and its solutions, with their students, schools, and surrounding communities.
Learn more about Monterey Bay Aquarium's work to curb ocean plastic pollution

Podcast Series

Breaking Down: The Problem with Plastic Pollution

This six-part series covers the impacts of plastic pollution—from its threat to humans and wildlife to how the issue has energized young people and policymakers.

Plastic bag

Plastics, part 1: Get the scoop on why plastic is a problem, and plastic bags in particular.


Plastics, part 2: Learn about plastic pollution's lasting impact on the ocean and wildlife.

Sushi bar

Plastics, part 3: We know plastic is abundant in the ocean—but is it in our seafood?

Market bag

Plastics, part 4: Hear how plastic pollution affects Latino communities.

Market bag

Plastics, parte 4 en español: Escucha como la contaminación por plásticos está afectando las comunidades Latinas.

Melati and Isabel

Plastics, part 5: Find out how young people are taking on plastic pollution—and winning.

Prop 67

Plastics, part 6: Learn how California can lead the nation on the issue of plastic bags.