Ocean Water Pollution Facts
Many people mistakenly assume that the oceans are so large that pollution will not have any major effect on them. Pollution happens on a large scale, but most people only think of their own habits. If you think about the amount of trash, recycling and litter that you produce all by yourself, and then multiply it by the six billion other people on the planet, that should give you some idea of how much trash and litter there really is in the world. In addition to everyday consumption causing trash and litter (even if it’s accidental), there are major catastrophes, such as oil spills and tsunamis that pile onto the issue.
To help you think about pollution in the ocean, here are five ocean water pollution facts that might startle you:
- Oil is the biggest problem, causing the most deterioration of our ocean habitats. Only a small percent of oil pollution, about 12%, comes from oils spills. The rest comes from drainage off of the land.
- Oil is not the only pollution that makes its way from land to ocean, in fact, the vast majority of pollution in the ocean is from chemical (toxic waste, oil, and others) and trash that started out on land, with no intent of ever winding up off-shore.
- Fertilizer and sewage runoff disrupt the natural balance of organic materials in the ocean. This can deplete food sources, or cause an over abundance of algae that can lead to a reduction of oxygen in the water. Both of these results can cause major disruptions in habitat and species survival.
- Before the 1970’s it was common practice to dump hazardous waste into the ocean, with the idea that the large amount of water would sufficiently dilute the toxins
- The smallest creatures, at the bottom of the food chain, often consume toxic chemicals, plastic, and other waste. Those creatures are then consumed by larger and larger creatures, eventually even humans.
Plastic Pollution in the Oceans
While it is important to address all of the pollution issues in the oceans and the rest of the planet, I will focus on the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. We all contribute to the plastic pollution problem, whether we realize it or not!
The problem of plastic in the ocean was identified in the mid-late 1980s and has shown a dramatic increase since that time. It is thought that about 8 million tons of plastic make their way into the ocean each year. Most of this comes not from direct litter or pollution, but from trash carried from landfills by wind and rain. As I mentioned earlier, the real problem is waste moving from land to the ocean. Imagine for just a moment that you put all of your plastic bottles into the recycling bin and sent them off on the truck for processing. You did your part, right? But what if one of those bottles bounces out of the truck and makes its way into a storm drain, or a nearby river or stream? What then? Well, then it may very well wind up in the ocean! This happens far more often than we’d like. But in this case, ignorance is not bliss, because you may later end up consuming that plastic as you enjoy some North Atlantic Cod at dinner.
You may now be thinking to yourself, “that cod didn’t eat a whole plastic bottle!” and you’re correct. The cod may not have eaten any plastic at all. But it probably ate anchovies or some other small fish that did eat the plastic. No, not the whole bottle, but since plastic does not degrade or disintegrate over time, it simply wears down into smaller and smaller pieces until it can be easily consumed by small fish.
Did I mention that this plastic may have been a container for anti-freeze, oil, or some industrial chemical? So now think about that cod you’re planning to enjoy. Are you having second thoughts about dinner? I know I am!!
In addition to the wildlife that we consume being contaminated with toxins and chemicals from plastic, there are many other ways the pollution affects the ecosystem. Wildlife may become ill from the toxins, or be ensnared in the debris. Habitat and food supply become degraded threatening the livelihood of many species. In fact, some say that more wildlife is killed by plastic each year, than by climate change.
So to help you plan your meals, here are some facts about plastic pollution in the ocean:
- About 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic
- Most of the plastic has broken down into particles so small they are not visible to the naked eye
- In some areas, the amount of plastic is so dense that it is nearly solid
- Ocean currents condense the floating debris into areas called “convergences”
- As the currents move the plastic it breaks apart, this is called photodegradation. It does not dissolve or biodegrade, it simply keeps breaking into smaller and smaller pieces.
Due to the issues of tiny, even microscopic, size of the plastic, it can be very difficult to remove from the water. It can be very difficult to even see! This is why the issue went unnoticed for so long, I mean, seeing is believing, right? Many people don’t see the issue, so they feel it must not be that big of an issue. But there are convergence areas so thick and solid that a human being can literally walk on it!
First, and foremost, we need prevention. Until we stop dumping TONS of plastic into the ocean every day, it will be very nearly impossible to clean it up. In order to encourage prevention, we need education, which is why I am writing this. Hopefully, my loyal readers will help me spread the knowledge and encourage others to reduce, and reuse, instead of recycling those plastic bottles.
More knowledge for you:
There is plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean … and in all the other oceans.
Two main convergences, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the North Atlantic Garbage Patch (now you see where I got the North Atlantic Cod idea), have been discovered. The Pacific Garbage Patch is roughly the size of Mexico … wrap your head around that for a minute … we have actually created an entire country out of trash, and not even a small country! Other convergences also exist and the plastic pollution in the ocean also results in plastic pollution of the shoreline. Islands have even been discovered that are covered in trash, even though they are not inhabited.
The “garbage patches” are also commonly referred to as a trash “island”, or “vortex”.