Today I was thinking about our oceans and wanted to write about ocean pollution. After we explore this we can start to develop ways that we can stem the tide of ocean pollution.
What is polluting our oceans and where exactly does it all come from?
Most of the things that are polluting the planet’s large bodies of water come from human activities along the coastlines and even far inland. “Non-Point Runoff” is one of the largest sources of water pollution. This is pollution that doesn’t come from one place but from hundreds to thousands of places. Think about all the things that it takes to run your life, things like your vehicles, the food you eat and the products you use. During their manufacturing, during their use and at the end of their life everything we use produces a little bit of pollution and it more often than not ends up accumulating in our waterways. When they are making and you are using these things it creates a bit of pollution which eventually makes its way into the ocean. A source that contributes less to ocean pollution but often gets more media attention is called the single source or single point pollution. This is things like oil spills from ships and oil rigs.
Let us dig into two other types of maritime pollution:
Marine debris in our water.
Marine debris presents a persistent pollution problem that has a global reach. The oceans and waterways get polluted with a variety of debris, ranging from tiny microplastics, smaller than 5 mm, to abandoned fishing gear and shipwrecked vessels. This problem is impacting thousdands of marine species have been negatively impacted by marine debris, which can harm or kill an animal when it is ingested or they become entangled, and can threaten the habitats they depend on. Marine debris can also interfere with navigation safety and potentially pose a threat to human health.
All marine debris comes from people with a majority of it originating on land and entering the ocean and Great Lakes through littering, poor waste management practices, storm water discharge, and extreme natural events such as tsunamis and hurricanes. Some debris, such as derelict fishing gear, can also come from ocean-based sources. This lost or abandoned gear is a major problem because it can continue to capture and kill wildlife, damage sensitive habitats, and even compete with and damage active fishing gear.
Local, national, and international efforts are needed to address this environmental problem. The Save our Seas Act of 2018 amends and reauthorizes the Marine Debris Act to promote international action, authorize cleanup and response actions, and increase coordination among federal agencies on this topic.
Garbage patches? Oh no.
Garbage patches are large areas of the ocean where trash, fishing gear, and other marine debris collects. The term “garbage patch” is a misleading nickname, making many believe that garbage patches are “islands of trash” that are visible from afar. These areas are actually made up of debris ranging in size, from microplastics to large bundles of derelict fishing gear.
These patches are formed by large, rotating ocean currents called gyres that pull debris into one location, often to the gyre’s center. There are five gyres in the ocean: one in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean. Garbage patches of varying sizes are located in each gyre. Due to winds and currents, garbage patches are constantly changing size and shape. The debris making up the garbage patches can be found from the surface of the ocean all the way to the ocean floor.