Oceans are absolutely essential to life on earth, with this natural wonder covering 70% of the earth’s surface, and providing habitats for much of our planet’s wildlife. Unfortunately, this life is threatened by the pollution of man-made rubbish that has infested our seas.
Remarkably, around 1.4 billion pounds of garbage is dumped into the ocean every year, which along with other sources of pollution, including sewage, industrial waste, and oil spills, kills over a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals every year.
How does this pollution impact on wildlife?
In the past, it was often assumed that due to the sheer size of the ocean, dumping rubbish into it would not cause any issues. Unfortunately, this attitude has created huge problems as pollution levels have built up over time, with human interference having serious consequences for wildlife.
Oil is one common pollutant that is particularly damaging to marine life, entering the ocean through land drainage as well as oil spills. This substance suffocates marine life and completely changes the local ecosystem of any areas it comes into contact with.
While oil is extremely damaging, the biggest problem is undoubtedly plastic, with over 5 trillion pieces of plastic debris floating around in the ocean.
Plastic is damaging to wildlife in numerous ways. It is well-documented that animals can become trapped in plastic, but the debris can also be a choking hazard, with animals mistaking plastic for food. Unfortunately, many animals starve as a result of swallowing plastic.
As plastic can also absorb toxic chemicals from other forms of water pollution, it can effectively poison animals too.
Plastic is such a significant issue due to its unique properties. This material is both naturally buoyant and doesn’t degrade, with plastic able to float thousands of miles on the surface of the water, gathering into huge waste islands.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of these islands, which is twice the size of Texas, and three times the size of France, and floats off the coast of California.
These islands form due to natural currents, with the plastic in these islands often decades old. While plastic cannot degrade naturally, it does break up into smaller pieces of debris, causing even greater problems for marine wildlife, and making the islands even bigger.
What can we do?
Ocean pollution is something that occurs at various levels, and we can all do our part to reduce this problem. At an international level, a greater focus on renewable energy means that less pollutants, such as oil, are entering the oceans.
As consumers we can also do our best to avoid plastic where possible (particularly single use products like carrier bags), and ensure that we are recycling properly. Every piece of plastic that you recycle is one less pollutant that could end up in the ocean, potentially saving the life of a marine animal.
The oceans are a precious source of life, and we have a responsibility to help it prosper.