Each year an estimated 8 million metric tons, or 17 billion pounds, of plastic flows into the ocean. Enough is enough.
First and foremost, an endless flow of trash into the ocean will affect the health of humans and wildlife alike as well as compromise the livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean. Trash and debris such as fishing gear, straws, and plastic bags pose a deadly threat to marine life. Fishing gear can trap helpless sea turtles and cut through flesh of whales, while plastic bags are easily mistaken as food and consumed by animals. Straws can be hazardous in that they can get stuck in a nostril, a blowhole, an eye, or even a throat.
There’s no doubt about it: ocean plastic pollution is a big problem. An estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste flow from land into the ocean every year, meaning that by 2025 there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish! And there’s much more to the problem than floating bags, bottles and fishing nets—as many as 51 trillion pieces of microplastic (plastic pieces less than five mm) now circulate in the ocean.
Big problems call for creative solutions. To truly make an impact in the problem of ocean plastic pollution, we have to attack it from multiple directions. This includes minimizing the amount of plastic waste we create, managing our waste to prevent plastic pollution from leaking into the ocean and mitigating the existing marine debris through active cleanup and restoration efforts.
Once again, the time has come to share the results of last year’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC)! This is an especially exciting year for the Ocean Trash Index because we’re celebrating the Cleanup’s 30th anniversary!
Each year, I’m amazed by the number of people who care about the health of our ocean. During the 2015 ICC, 791,336 people removed 18,062,911 pounds of trash from 25,188 miles of coast around the world. These volunteers collected trash on their local beaches and waterways and provided Ocean Conservancy with a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.
True confessions: I’m secretly a total Harry Potter nerd. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret… (#TeamHufflepuff anyone?) Which is why I did a literal happy dance in my living room when I saw Emma Watson’s gown for last night’s Met Gala.
Nothing ruins a sweeping ocean vista like…trash. Not only are piles of plastic an eyesore, they’re seriously harmful to the countless animals who call the ocean home. This Earth Day, take a minute to see how you can decrease your negative impacts on the ocean (and let’s be real, with 71% of the globe covered in water, shouldn’t we be calling this “Ocean Day”, anyway?).
Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’ve been working hard to keep trash off of our beaches and out of our oceans for three decades—but we can’t do it alone. Whether you’re a casual coastal visitor or frequent beach bum, here are five easy things you can do to keep our ocean trash free.
The following is a guest blog from Dr. Chelsea Rochman, who is currently serving as a Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Biology.
For decades, we have heard concerns regarding the entanglement of marine mammals and sea turtles in marine debris. We see images of seabirds, turtles and whales washing up with bellies full of trash. And more recently, we see constant media attention on microplastics—small pieces of plastic debris less than five millimeters in size. Marine debris is everywhere. It is reported from the poles to the equator and from the surface to the seafloor. It has been recorded in tens of thousands of individual animals encompassing nearly 600 species.
With such vast and abundant contamination, comes a perception that marine debris is a large threat to the ecology of our ocean. As part of a working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) facilitated by Ocean Conservancy and focused on marine debris, I worked with a group of scientists to ask if the weight of evidence demonstrating impacts matched the weight of this concern? The findings of our analysis have just been published.
It’s getting really bad. Practically every kind of animal, from plankton to whales, is now contaminated by plastic. It’s in the birds, in the turtles, in the fish. At the current rate, we could have 1 ton of plastics for every 3 tons of fish by 2025.
This is nobody’s plan. It’s not the plan of the plastics industry, it’s not the plan of the consumer goods industry and it’s certainly not the plan for those of us who love and need the ocean. Nobody wants this.