Historically, the disposal of wastes into water by humans was universally practiced. It was a cheap and convenient way to rid society of food wastes (e.g., cleaned carcasses, shells, etc.), trash, mining wastes, and human wastes (or sewage). The advent of the Industrial Age brought with it the new problem of chemical wastes and by-products: These were also commonly disposed of in the water.
Around 267 species around the world are harmed by plastic, 44% of seabirds, 43% of ocean mammals, and 86% of sea turtles ingest or become tangled in plastic. http://www.savemyoceans.com/plastics.php
Marine debris is man made waste that is directly or indirectly disposed of in oceans, rivers, and other waterways. Most trash reaches the seas via rivers, and 80% originates from landfills and other urban sources. This waste, which is also consumed by fish and can entangle sharks and damage coral reefs, tends to accumulate in gyres (areas of slow spiraling water and low winds) and along coastlines.
There are 5 major ocean gyres worldwide. In the Pacific Ocean, the North Pacific Gyre is home to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a large area that is approximately the size of Texas with debris extending 20 feet (6 meters) down into the water column. It’s
estimated that this “plastic island” contains 3.5 million tons of trash and could double in size in the next 5 years(I’ve heard the size is an exaggeration. I have not seen it myself so I’m not sure, but just so you know both sides. I will however point out that if all the pollution in the ocean came together, I’m sure there would be no need to exaggerate.) Researchers have also estimated that for every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of plankton in this area, there is 13.2 pounds (6 kilograms) of plastic. Common marine debris items includes things like cigarette butts, cans, plastic bags and bottles, styrofoam, balloons, lighters, and toothbrushes. Discarded or lost fishing gear such as lines, nets and buoys are especially dangerous to sea life.
Plastic bags seem to be death’s right hand man. They don’t biodegrade, break up and release toxins and chemicals into the environment. Sea turtles and other marine creatures mistake plastic and other garbage as food (like jellyfish) and ingest it. The plastic causes blockages within their digestive system and eventually death. If they don’t die from the blockage then we fish for them and those toxins end on our plates and in our bodies. According the EPA, Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps a year. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce this many bags. The world uses a trillion bags which uses 100 million barrels of oil. All our problems of fighting over oil could be dwindled down to just a few, if we would quit being so lazy and use reusable bags.
Coastal development is another problem that people have caused for the ocean environment. It is a broad category that includes an array of human activities including beachfront construction of homes, hotels, restaurants, and roads, often for tourism, beach renourishment, seawall construction, and near shore dredging and oil platform construction. Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of a coastline and this number will likely increase dramatically in the next decade. The human alteration of coastlines forces nesting females to use other beaches, changes the properties of nesting beaches, and contributes to the pollution of sea turtle habitat from runoff and wastewater discharge.
Increased coastal populations result in increased recreation and beach going vehicles. Objects left on beaches, like beach chairs, create obstacles for nesting females, sometimes resulting in failed nesting attempts. Obstacles on beaches can also be hazards to hatchlings as they get trapped in depressions and are unable to make it to the ocean. Seawall construction creates impenetrable barriers to nesting females and causes unnatural erosion of beaches. Boats and personal watercraft are responsible for large numbers of sea turtle injuries and deaths. As coastal populations increase, boating activities increase and collisions with sea turtles that must surface to breathe, are inevitable.
So what can we do about it?
1. Get educated and share your knowledge!
2. Don’t pour oil, engine fluids, cleaners, or household chemicals down storm drains or sinks.
3. Find approved motor oil and household chemical recycling or disposal facilities near your home, and make sure your family and friends use them.
4. Use lawn, garden and farm chemicals sparingly and wisely. Before spreading chemicals or fertilizer, check the weather forecast for rain so they don’t wash away.
5. Repair automobile or boat engine leaks immediately.
6. Don’t litter- trash gets blown in the wind, and eventually will find its way to the ocean. If you find litter pick it up and recycle if you can.
7. The transportation to landfills and recycle centers isn’t always the most environmentally friendly practice. It uses a lot of gas, but also if the trash isn’t covered properly then it flies everywhere which leads to my last point, try to use as little packaging as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables use less packaging. Use reusable plastic bags. By in bulk or the largest quantity and avoid small individual packages of any product or consumable greatly reduces the amount of paper or boxboard that you buy and throw away. Of course, don’t buy large quantities if the food would spoil before it is used.
8. Reuse any packaging that you can. Save plastic bags, newspapers, packing peanuts, other packing materials and reuse them as packing materials. Use boxes and big containers for storage, by real plates, cups and silverware instead of using plastic.