Last week I helped a young friend write an informative speech for her class. The topic she chose was the vast amount of pollution of our ocean. I was thrilled she asked me to help her with this particular subject as it was the same topic I chose for my informative speech many moons ago.
Mine was more tailored toward coral reefs and their incredible resources. Anyway, I decided to do a little digging on the pollution of our ocean in preparation for her speech.
Many people know I am somewhat of a book hoarder so I checked my little home library and I pulled out my old Oceanography textbook, “Essentials of Oceanography,” and another entitled, “The Life-Giving Sea,” by Bellamy, and did some research online. One thing that frustrated me the most is that while there has been exponential progress toward this issue, not much has changed since I wrote my speech and since my friend wrote hers.
Most people know that seventy percent of our world is made up of water. What you may not know, is that of that 70 percent, more than 80 percent of the ocean is unmapped and unexplored. (U.S. Department of Commerce & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2013) With all of this vast unknown, over the course of history we have relied heavily on the ocean for sustenance, travel, and regulating the temperature of the world. As much as we rely on the ocean though, we are failing it.
There are currently 5.25 trillion pieces of garbage and counting, that reside in our ocean. (U.S. Department of Commerce & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2013) Nonpoint source pollution from on land runoff also plays a huge role in water pollution. Not to mention the impact overfishing has on our coral reefs and at the rate we are going it’s scary to think of what may come of our once beautiful ocean.
How many of you like going to the beach? Living in Central Florida, residents have the privilege of driving 30 or 40 minutes to the nearest beach any time we’d like. What if I told you that in 50 years or so, your kids, or grandchildren will not have that same privilege. That one day you’ll take them to the beach and there will be nothing but plastic fragments for sand and garbage along the shoreline. That one day you’ll want to take them snorkeling, you’ll dive in and find that the coral reefs once full of life are now empty, grey and brittle.
What if I told you that one day, you may not even be able to get into the water. That physical and chemical pollution has tainted it so, that it is deemed unsafe for humans. The crashing waves now just a reminder of the destruction humans are capable of. Being a mom, this terrifies me. The beach is a sanctuary, it’s my sanctuary. I hope one day to take my son, and his children to a beach with white sands, crashing blue waves and zero pollution.
There are several organizations that work tirelessly to fight against the contributing factors of oceanic distress. Sea World, 4Ocean, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce come to mind. According to their website, the National Ocean Service provides data, tools, and services that support coastal economies and their contribution to the national economy.
5.25 trillion pieces of garbage. The amount of physical pollution that resides in the ocean is staggering. The worst part is that it’s man made. Marine debris comes from many different sources. Intentional littering and dumping is the biggest cause of marine debris. However, unintentional littering plays a big part as well. When you throw garbage out of your car window, or leave your drink in a parking lot, that then finds its way into a storm drain that empties into streams, rivers and other bodies of water, it all adds up.
A 2015 study published in journal science states that “China’s heavily coastal population contributes 1.3 million to 3.5 million metric tons of plastic to the world’s oceans each year, largely due to mismanaged waste.” (Mohan, 2015) Businesses throughout the world have decided to ditch the plastic bags, go straw-less and some companies even encourage their customers to bring their own containers to shop, ditching plastics in their stores all together. Sea World and Starbucks have made headlines in the news lately with their efforts to go straw-less in response to the ever-growing crisis. Approximately one million seabirds and 100,000 marine creatures die each year from plastic entanglement, and those are just the ones that are found. Shoppers worldwide use 500 billion plastic single-use shopping bags per year. That translates to about 150 bags for every individual person on the planet. (2018)
I’ll admit, when I was younger I used plastic bags all time. I’ve always recycled but I never knew the amount that got left behind and don’t make it to the recycling center. I re-purposed them, using them for the small trash cans in the bathroom but I always ended up tossing them. I encourage everyone to spend the $3 or $4 to get a reusable bag. I have about ten or eleven now and it’s all I have ever needed to go shopping.
It’s not just the physical pollution that’s causing the problem. Nonpoint source pollution is the biggest contributing factor to water pollution. According to the NOAA, 80 percent of pollution to the marine environment comes from the land. (U.S. Department of Commerce & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2013)
Runoff from larger sources like farms, fields, ranches, and even smaller sources like septic tanks, motor vehicles and boats play a contributing factor. Small drops of oil land on our streets every day from driving, the rain washes it away and into our water. Our everyday life effects 70 percent of our world. Air pollution is also a contributing factor.
There are some pollutants that may seem harmless, such as fertilizers flowing from agricultural land stimulate plant growth in estuaries. There are some pollutants that are hazardous to some organisms, but not to others.
“Crude oil interferes with the delicate feeding structures of zooplankton and coats the feathers of birds, but it simultaneously serves as a feast for certain bacteria.” (Garrison)
There are areas in the ocean where hypoxic zones occur. These dead zones have such a low level of oxygen that animal life actually suffocates and dies. While this can sometimes happen naturally, researchers are concerned with the frequency of these zones that are caused by human activity. One of the largest dead zones occurs, right here in our state, every spring in the Gulf of Mexico as farmers begin fertilizing their lands for crop season.
The crisis doesn’t end with pollution. Marine resources are subject to the economic laws of supply and demand. Fish, crustaceans, and mollusks are the ocean’s most valuable biological resources. (Garrison)
Coral reef fish are a significant food source for over a billion people worldwide. Many coastal and island communities depend on coral reef fisheries for their economic, social and cultural benefits. (2018)
With the amount of overfishing that occurs, this kind of depletion has drastic effects on key reef species. These losses cause a ripple effect, not only does it affect the coral reefs, seagrass and marine life in those areas but it also affects the local economies that rely on them. Coral reefs provide more than just a habitat for marine life. New generations of drugs and bioproducts are of oceanic origin.
The earliest recorded use of medicines derived from marine organisms appears in the Materia Medica of the emperor Shen Nung of China, 2700 B.C.E. Modern medical researchers estimate that perhaps 10 percent of all marine organisms are likely to yield clinically useful compounds. (Garrison)
Resources such as this have been used for anti-aging treatments, anti-viral compounds to treat herpes, anticancer chemicals, and anti-inflammatories. Some of these resources have been used to treat Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, a variety of cancers and can even boost the immune system.
Our ocean clearly has a lot of recovering to do now and for future generations to come. The ripple effect that we have on our world’s ocean is massive. You may not recognize it but every decision you make plays a role in how it is affected. No one knows to what extent we have contaminated the ocean.
As I stated earlier more than 80 percent of our ocean is still unexplored. That means that all of the statistics I have just given you make up only 20 percent of our ocean. We are failing our ocean. The amount of garbage and plastic, the nonpoint source pollution from runoff, and the effects of overfishing have on our coral reefs continues to worsen every single day.
It is sad to consider that we will never know what the natural ocean was like or what remarkable plants and animals may have vanished as a result of human activity.
There are several organizations that are combating these factors to move toward a brighter future for our ocean. I encourage you to do your part. Be aware of your imprint on this planet. Do some researching, volunteer for beach clean-ups and say no to plastic bags. Together, I believe that we can help keep our ecosystems clean and allow our marine life to thrive to its fullest potential.
Below I have listed a few places where you and your family can volunteer. Stay tuned in the next few weeks as I will be writing a series on algal blooms and how they affect the people and the state of Florida.
Last year I wrote a piece for my college newspaper about the affects of plastic in our ocean. You can find the story here What a tangled web we weave
Garrison, T. (n.d.). Essentials of Oceanography (5th ed.). Canada: Yolanda Cossio.
Mohan, G. (2015, February 13). Millions of tons of trash dumped into world’s oceans. Retrieved July 14, 2018, from http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-tons-of-plastic-trash-in-oceans-20150213-story.html
Plastic Statistics. (2018, March 26). Retrieved July 14, 2018, from http://oceancrusaders.org/plastic-crusades/plastic-statistics/
US Department of Commerce, & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2013, June 01). NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Retrieved July 14, 2018, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/