Stop Littering! It's Killing Our Marine Life

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Everyday people go to the store and buy plastic items from food packaging to shampoo bottles, they never think twice about it. To us these things are harmless but to the marine life their a floating minefield. All of the eight million tons of plastic dumped in the ocean each year are harmful to not only the environment but are also often mistaken as food by marine life. 100,000 marine animals die each year from being caught in or attempting to eat the plastic. But it's not their fault, all of that plastics and trash makes it way to the ocean from drains, wind or flooding, trash inland eventually makes it way to the ocean. Marine animals are clueless of this hazard and we need to be the ones to put a stop to it.

Littering Effect On the Environment

The effects of ocean litter have a direct impact on the environment. It takes a very long time for trash, especially plastic to break down when it’s in the ocean. An orange peel can take up to 2 years to fully break down, an aluminum can up to 80 years. When plastic breaks down in the ocean the toxins are released in the water. Plastic that has been exposed to waves and saltwater for long amounts of time begins to break down into small fragments called micro plastics. They are beginning to be found in ocean waters and sand or sea floor sediments. They are thinner than human hair but are full of toxic substances such as softeners, solvents and other chemicals.The mounds of trash floating in the ocean can suffocate, break or damage the habitat of the ocean especially the coral reefs.

 Littering Effect On Marine Life

Animals such as sea turtles, seabirds, and other marine mammals mistake plastic and other trash as food and try to eat it. Sometimes the animals natural food is attach to the litter or could be eaten accidentally with other food. Ingesting plastic can cause loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation, and even death. Sea turtles are known for mistaking plastic bags for their food source, jellyfish. In fact, 86 % of marine turtles are affected by the ocean debris. Whales have become a victim of this hazard all over the world, a young whale found off the coast  of Greece had 100 plastic bags in it’s stomach. Another threat to animals is becoming entangled in the debris, this is a large threat to whales mainly. Minke whales in Scotland have been seen wrapped in debris. Equipment from fishing boats also ends up in the ocean and has caused more than 260 animals worldwide to become entangled.

Effect On Humans

The litter is a big hazard to marine life but it can also have an impact on humans. Regularly only beach resorts clean their beaches of trash, but as the problem has increased less and less beaches are regularly cleared of trash, economic costs to regularly clean them are even more expense now too. Human harm can also come by stepping on broken glass, syringes and other medical waste, exposure to chemicals are also a hazard. Tourism is losing profits from less interest in visiting these trash filled beaches. Commercial fishing could also meet problems like the ships getting stuck in litter mounds or nets becoming entangled in it.

Where Does The Litter Come From?

Litter is constantly moving around, wind, flooding and transportation disperse trash all over and lots of it into the ocean. During storms lots of trash makes it’s way to the beach even from places far inland, another large contribution to the problem is careless visitors leaving trash directly on the beaches. It is estimated that 6.4 million tons of litter enter the ocean each year. Another way litter enters the ocean is by commercial fishing boats that often loose or toss out into the ocean equipment such as fishing nets. All of this trash moves around in the ocean and can even end up back on beaches, trash has been washed up on inhabitable beaches where no one even lives.

What Is Being Done?

Overall this global issue is not taken as seriously as it should be, it is seen as less important than many other environmental problems. However lots of campaigns are in effect to raise awareness about the situation, like the one by the UNEP. Groups like these work with governmental companies to create better regulations about litter. The issue is that the United States is not the only place with this problem, countries across the world never think twice about dumping waste into the ocean, that waste eventually make it here. Waste management systems are being created from organizations like the one above. Lots of local beach clean up events are organized to keep the beaches clean. A large scale event in 2009 had 500,000 people from 100 countries take part in a coastal clean up. However overall it is clear to many people that not enough is being done.

What Should Be Done

In order to improve the situation in the future, countries must come up with better waste management and recycling systems. Environmental education and awareness will need to be more worldwide and available. Maybe the most important thing that must be done is the government needs to put more regulations and restrictions on beach littering and littering in general. More of the environmental government funding should be put towards clean up efforts as they are becoming more expensive for individual organizations.

What Can You Do?

A large portion of the problem comes directly from society’s inability to manage our personal trash, but you can make small changes to your life that will have a large impact.

Some examples of things you can do are:

  1. Recycles as much as possible and do it properly
  2. Do not throw litter onto a beach or directly into the ocean 
  3. Do not litter anywhere as it can make it’s way to the ocean
  4. Pick up trash you see on the beach
  5. Consider joining a local beach cleanup event or crew
  6. Do not let balloons go into the air they often end up in the ocean
  7. Use reusable bags at the the grocery store instead of plastic bags
  8. Encourage family and friends to take part in making a difference as well

 Bibliography:

Litter In The Seas And Oceans - WDC Kidzone. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

"World Ocean Review." Zur Deutschen Site Wechseln. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

Facts about Marine Litter | Perseus. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

| OR&R's Marine Debris Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.



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