The ocean is one of the greatest resources available to mankind. Our stewardship of it will impact the ability of the human race to experience full and happy lives or merely cling to existence. While this sentiment may sound overly dramatic, there’s a firm basis in fact. Seventy percent of the earth is covered by oceans, and these vast waters are being degraded before we’ve even had a chance to explore ten percent of their volume.
Earth is one great big interdependent ecosystem that provides sustenance and shelter for the animals and humans that live on the planet. There are forests of trees on the land that nourish and give homes to land dwellers. Underwater kelp forests create food and habitats for ocean animals like whales, seals and birds. Unfortunately, though, those resources are becoming polluted with unhealthy substances.
Landfills are overflowing with trash and biological waste. Before stricter regulations were put into place, people could discard anything they wanted to at their local landfills. Some of these items are still leaching toxic chemicals into the environment, polluting the land and water. Even today, certain types of hazardous materials can sometimes be found in landfills:
- Lead Paint
- Medical Waste
Trash barges are a new kind of garbage storage that resides on the ocean. When landfills contain environmentally hazardous materials, they can migrate into the soil and water over time through the rain cycle. But ocean barges carry hazardous waste that’s at risk for being directly introduced into the world’s oceans. Many of them are over their stated capacity, and sometimes garbage floats on the ocean for years because no country will take responsibility for it.
In addition to trash barges, there are now gigantic garbage patches floating in the Pacific Ocean. Instead of recycling, too many people throw away plastic, glass and other reusable materials. Eventually, some of it ends up on beaches and shorelines and, eventually, in our oceans. Conservation efforts include reducing the amount of plastic we use, reusing everything we can, and recycling the excess. Implementing this plan to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” will cut down on the plastic trash that makes it to the oceans.
Garbage like this doesn’t just spoil the environment. Some researchers say that 20 million deaths are caused by some form of pollution each year. That amounts to 40 percent of the deaths each year worldwide. Whether the pollution is airborne or by water, it can cause a multitude of diseases including typhoid, hepatitis, cancer of the lungs or other various types. Some of the other diseases that are attributed at least in part to pollution are:
- Heart Disease
- Liver Damage
- Kidney Disease
Plastics are one of the worst ocean pollutants because they can take decades to break down. In the great ocean garbage patch (actually a series of patches), there are millions of small plastic pieces that have decomposed from larger items. This includes microscopic bits that come from cosmetic products and plastic stuffing that used to be inside larger items.
We’re already seeing the terrible effects of all this debris and plastic in the world’s oceans. Whales have washed up on beaches with stomachs full of plastic and other garbage, a probable cause of death. Birds, sea lions, and dolphins have all been caught in plastic trash, and discarded fishing gear kills turtles and birds. For many animals, ingesting plastic trash leads to constant, unending hunger because their stomachs are filled with refuse.
We need a comprehensive conservation plan for stopping this continual assault by humans. Waste products from garbage affect the hundreds of thousands of species in our beautiful oceans and cause the devastation of coral reefs that have existed for thousands of years, like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Rivers that feed the waters around the reef deliver fertilizer and pesticides from farms to the ocean, causing 67 percent die-offs of corals in some areas.
The oceans of the world have so much to offer. They provide food, recreation, transportation and a look at the wonderful diversity of nature. Fresh sea air is healthy, and the salt and magnesium in seawater are beneficial to humans. Looking at the blue expanse and listening to the sound of waves breaking on the shore is soothing and uplifting for most people. It’s time to work together to protect this shared treasure.