Summer is upon us, and for many this means trips to the beach to bask in the sun and take a dip in the ocean. Unfortunately, the following image may lead you to see your anticipated swim in the sea in a new light. Not because it features a gigantic — but harmless — Manta ray, but rather, because of another — and this time entirely harmful — giant presence in the sea.

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Rather than the colossal marine animal, what is truly chilling about this photograph is the amount of plastic trash floating near the ocean’s surface. Most of this trash comes directly from us, the consumers who purchase and discard everything from plastic bags and cups to fast-food containers and non-recyclable and non-biodegradable packaging without a second thought as to where these harmful materials will end up. Our careless consumption of plastic in all shapes and forms ends with 8.8 million tons of plastic trash getting dumped in the oceans every year, creating gigantic islands of garbage and endangering over 700 marine species.

Not to mention that if this trend continues unheeded, the next beach you spend your relaxing vacation on may look something like this:

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Our swimming vacation aside, plastic pollution in the ocean is endangering centuries-old marine animals, as well as the overall health of the planet. Take the Manta ray pictured above. The species in its current form is 4.8 million years old, yet anthropogenic impact on the ocean is seriously endangering its survival. Overfishing has slashed Manta rays numbers, with the surviving animals left to swim around in a sea of plastic waste.

Manta rays are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a truly saddening reality when learning how special this species it. These magnificent animals can grow as large as 25 feet across, yet they are regarded as gentle giants, having evolved out of having the dangerous venomous stingers their cousins the stingrays still possess. Manta rays also display particularly intelligent behavior — such as coordinated and cooperative feeding amongst each other — which comes as no surprise when considering they have the highest brain-to-body mass ratios of all fish.

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These rays are made even more vulnerable by the fact that they reproduce at a very slow rate, producing only one offspring every one to three years on average. Despite their significance and particularly remarkable attributes, these animals are in danger due to overfishing — they are caught, killed and sold as medicinal products — and ocean pollution, just like countless other marine species.

What You Can Do

The best way to ensure you aren’t contributing to the mounds of plastic trash polluting the oceans — and don’t end up swimming amongst plastic bags during your next beach holiday — is to cut plastic out of your life. This can easily be done by using reusables — bags, cups, cutlery, etc — and by following simple tips to reduce your personal waste.

Join One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet campaign to learn more and ensure your consumer choices aren’t negatively impacting our oceans.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.

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Lead image source: Elitza Germanov