Trash in Our Ocean and Waterways: Much More Than an Eyesore
Trash in the ocean isn't just ugly - it impacts everything from ocean health (and potentially human health) to local economies. Toxins enter the food chain, sharp items injure beachgoers, and accident-causing debris snarls boat propellers. Trash weakens economies, sapping precious dollars from tourism and our seafood industries. It harms individual species as well as entire ecosystems like coral reefs that are essential for the survival of marine life. A Rising Tide of Ocean Debris and What We Can Do About It provides an overview of these impacts, and offers special sec
tions on how trash in the ocean is affecting wildlife and helping compromise the ocean's ability to adapt to global climate change.
Marine Debris Kills
Thousands of birds, dolphins, seals, turtles, and fish eat things they shouldn't - like bottle caps and toothbrushes - and lose their lives. Ingested trash can cause choking, blockage of the digestive system, or toxic poisoning.
And every item we allow into the ocean adds to the dangerous marine debris obstacle course confronting wildlife. Curious seals poke their noses into food containers, yogurt cups, or bottles, and then get stuck, which prevents them from eating or even breathing. Playful dolphins swirl around discarded fishing nets and rope, becoming entangled. Animals tangled in trash may drown immediately, or drag the debris around until they weaken and die.
Climate Change and Marine Debris
Marine debris is yet another stress on an ocean already beleaguered by many other human-caused stresses including coastal development, pollution, overfishing, and now climate change. As the engine that drives our planet's climate, the ocean is on the front lines of climate change. It absorbs half of the carbon dioxide we've pumped into the sky from the burning of fossil fuels, and most of the extra heat produced by the greenhouse effect.
Indeed, the ocean is the unsung hero in this battle. But it's also a most vulnerable victim. We can help the ocean be more resilient in the face of climate change by eliminating other stresses like over fishing, pollution - and trash in the ocean.
For more information about why marine debris matters to global climate, see the special section on pages 18-21 of the report.
Trash Moves From Land to Sea
Data from the Cleanup confirms that the same items that litter the landscape show up on the ocean's shores. Cigarettes / cigarette filters were the number-one debris item removed from both coastal (2,447,482 butts) and inland (769,509 butts) cleanups. With 73 percent of volunteers in coastal areas, compared to just 27 percent inland, the International Coastal Cleanup hopes to enlist more volunteers to help clean up lakes and inland waterways.
(Content courtesy of the Ocean Conservancy)
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