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An Oceanic Issue
On most days in Southern California, tons of people can be seen on and around the beautiful ocean, soaking in the rays of sunshine. However, upon closer inspection, one would find that boats aren’t the only thing floating on the surface; plastic is too! Unfortunately, this isn’t just an issue in Southern California; Plastic pollutes every ocean, everywhere in the world. Ocean pollution is a grave issue that needs to be rectified because it harms marine life and negatively affects the health of humans.
The majority of the waste that washes into the ocean is taken by currents to one of five “gyres” or groups of rotating currents in the oceans. Of these five gyres, one is in the Indian Ocean, two are in the Atlantic Ocean, and two are in the Pacific Ocean. Within each of these gyres, there are many smaller garbage patches. These so-called “patches” are not actual islands of trash, they are just areas of high trash concentration.1 In these areas, plastic is present from the surface to the ocean floor.2 Plastic products can take over 400 years to decompose, however, the plastic does not dissolve without consequence. Before it completely dissolves, plastic breaks down into microscopic pieces which are extremely dangerous to marine life.3
Let’s look at a local real-world example of water pollution. Hurricane Gulch, a small cove just southeast of the Port of Los Angeles, in San Pedro, California, is a highly polluted body of water. The Gulch is home to Cabrillo Beach, a protected beach that families flock to in the summer. It is also known for its unique sailing conditions, and as a result, four marinas and four yacht clubs call Hurricane Gulch their home.
According to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, a program that routinely records the water quality of beaches up and down the west coast, Cabrillo Beach’s water quality is consistently an “F” with the occasional temporary jump to an “A” or a “B”.4 You may think “Oh, the Gulch must be dirty!” Well, you are right. Once you enter the Cabrillo Marina, it gets worse. Plastic bottles and bags can be seen floating around the harbor, and patches of boat oil float around.
The plastic debris and oil that ends up in the ocean can harm marine life in many ways. It has sadly become common to find plastic in the stomachs of marine life, from birds to whales to shellfish.5 Small microplastics mistakenly eaten by marine life can starve them by filling them up with non-nourishing particles.6 Additionally, algae, barnacles, crabs, and other small marine life can attach to plastic pieces and be transported to new places where they can disrupt the ecosystem by overcrowding or wiping out native species.7 Stray plastic fishing nets can entrap animals, an incident commonly known as “ghost fishing”.8 Plastic can also indirectly harm marine life. Animals can be poisoned by the chemicals that “leach” out of plastic into the ocean. Chemicals such as “flame retardants, antimicrobial agents, and antioxidants” have been known to negatively impact hormone production in marine life.9
Not only is water pollution a threat to marine life, but it also has negative effects on humans.
Plastics act like sponges and absorb toxins from the environment around them10. Lead, cadmium, and mercury cause “direct toxicity” in plastics.11 BPA, or bisphenol-A, a toxin in many plastics, is known to “interfere with human hormonal function”.12 Health effects aside, plastic can pose as a navigational hazard to vessels, and debris suspended just below the surface can cause fatal damage to smaller craft, endangering the lives of people onboard.13
What is a feasible way to resolve this issue? Companies are developing a variety of technologies to tackle the issue of pollution in the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit organization that is devoted to ridding the oceans of waste. Remember those trash gyres we discussed before? Well, Ocean Cleanup is building a mechanism that eventually will be able to float around garbage patches collecting trash.
Another way to remove plastic and oil waste from the ocean is with a relatively new technology called a “trash skimmer”. These skimmers are mounted to docks in marinas and yacht clubs, and collect plastic, trash, oil, and fuel from the surface of the water by drawing in polluted water, filtering it, and pumping clean water out.14 These so-called “Ocean Trash-bins” have proven to be very effective, with a one bin being able to collect ¾ a ton of waste annually.15
Having a few companies tackle the problem is not going to solve the issue. It is extremely important that the individual takes action as well! Research on plastic and its effects on the environment is essential to its removal, and that is why it is so important that we help fund nonprofits like Heal the Bay and The Ocean Cleanup. Additionally, reaching out to local yacht clubs and marinas to help purchase trash skimmers for their marinas will help clean up one source of the pollution. However, while the aforementioned solutions are quite effective, they are quite costly. You don’t need a lot of money to be a part of the solution, though. You can start by using as little plastic as possible in daily life, like using refillable water bottles and reusable shopping bags. Don’t use plastic straws or plastic utensils. Pick up any trash you see! You can get some extra spending money by recycling, and chances are, if those pieces of trash aren’t picked up, they will end up in the ocean!
Ocean Pollution is an astronomical issue that must be solved. Whether it be through funding new projects dedicated to the clean-up of our oceans or simply picking up a piece of trash on the ground, everyone can do their part. It is possible to restore the ocean to its original cleanliness!
1 Garbage Patches | OR&R's Marine Debris Program. (2013, July 11). Retrieved April 21, 2019.
2 Ibid. 2013.
3 Wright, M., Kirk, A., Molloy, M., & Mills, E. (2018, January 10). The stark truth about how long your plastic footprint will last on the planet . Retrieved April 21, 2019.
4 Beach Report Card with NowCast - Heal the Bay. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2019.
5 Jambeck, J. (2018, December 18). Marine Plastics. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
6 N.A. Garbage Patches. 2013
7 Ibid. 2013
8 Ibid. 2013
9 Jambeck, J. Marine Plastics. 2018.
10 Andrews, G. (2018, August 03). Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
11 Ibid. 2018.
12 Ibid. 2018
13 N.A. Garbage Patches. 2013
14 CBS This Morning [Television series episode]. (2019, April 22). In Earth Matters: Troubled Waters. New York City, New York: CBS.
15 The Seabin Project: Press Kit [Advertisement]. (2018, June 1). Retrieved April 19, 2019.