Ocean Pollution: The Dirty Facts

Ocean Pollution

Ocean Pollution: The Dirty Facts

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We’re drowning marine ecosystems in trash, noise, oil, and carbon emissions.

Covering more than 70 percent of our planet, oceans are among the earth’s most valuable natural resources. They govern the weather, clean the air, help feed the world, and provide a living for millions. They also are home to most of the life on earth, from microscopic algae to the blue whale, the largest animal on the planet. Yet we’re bombarding them with pollution. By their very nature—with all streams flowing to rivers, all rivers leading to the sea—the oceans are the end point for so much of the pollution we produce on land, however far from the coasts we may be. And from dangerous carbon emissions to choking plastic to leaking oil to constant noise, the types of ocean pollution humans generate are vast. As a result, collectively, our impact on the seas is degrading their health at an alarming rate. Here are some ocean pollution facts that everyone on our blue planet ought to know.

Trash in the Ocean

The majority of the garbage that enters the ocean each year is plastic—and here to stay. That’s because unlike other trash, the single-use grocery bags, water bottles, drinking straws, and yogurt containers, among eight million metric tons of the plastic items we toss (instead of recycle), won’t biodegrade. Instead, they can persist in the environment for a millennium, polluting our beaches, entangling marine life, and getting ingested by fish and seabirds.

Where does all this debris originate? While some is dumped directly into the seas, an estimated 80 percent of marine litter makes its way there gradually from land-based sources―including those far inland―via storm drains, sewers, and other routes. (An excellent reason why we should all reduce plastic pollution, no matter where we live.) Oil from boats, airplanes, cars, trucks, and even lawn mowers is also swimming in ocean waters. Chemical discharges from factories, raw sewage overflow from water treatment systems, and storm water and agricultural runoff add other forms of marine-poisoning pollutants to the toxic brew.