"With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you're connected to the sea" -Sylvia Earle
The blue planet. That’s what earth is. It’s what makes us different than every other planet in our solar system. 71% of our planet is covered in water. While the oceans themselves hold an estimated 96.5% of all our water. They also hold over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste. And an additional 9 billion tons of litter ends up in our oceans annually. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic, by weight, in our oceans than fish.
So how is so much trash getting into our oceans? If you’ve read part 1 and part 2 of this blog series then you know litter is abundant on our land and riverbank. That same litter gets blown into streams and rivers that make their way to our big, beautiful oceans. But that’s not the only way litter finds its way in. Careless trash is left behind on beaches, thrown from boats, and even from cargo ships hit by storms. In fact, in February of 1997, a cargo ship with five million Legos aboard was hit by a wave. Those Legos are still washing ashore 25 years later.
This boundless litter kills over one million marine animals every single year. From choking, malnutrition, and entanglements - litter, especially plastic, is affecting living creatures in catastrophic ways. Then there are the chemicals released from litter like plastic. They are exposed to the elements and beating sun. These chemicals begin affecting plankton, one of the smallest living creatures in the sea and works its way up the food chain to animals like whales and humans, if you eat seafood. As we learned in Part 2: In Our Rivers, the breaking down of plastics also decreases the oxygen levels in water. But how? Our oceans are abundant with a bacteria called Prochlorococcus which populates the upper portion of the ocean, as it needs sunlight to survive. As with other photosynthesis organisms, it uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. However, recent scientific studies have shown that when Prochlorococcus is exposed to chemicals from plastics, their growth was impaired and actually decreased the amount of oxygen they produced. This, in turn, decreased the amount of oxygen in our oceans.
As if all of this isn’t bad enough, our littered oceans are directly affecting climate change as well. As materials like plastics are broken down in the sun and the movements of our waters, greenhouse gasses are released into our environment. However, we also need to think about the feedback loop we’ve created. The more products we create, the more GHG we put in the atmosphere. As these gasses build up, we create a warming planet which in turn causes more intense storms. These storms, like Hurricane Ian, destroy manmade dwellings and pull more trash into our oceans. This trash breaks down and releases these GHG and affects Prochlorococcus and throw off the ocean’s delicate chemistry; an ocean that pulls in an estimated one-fourth of our CO2 emissions each year. But as I always say, there is hope. We need to take our anger, sadness, frustration, and fear and turn it into action. Here are some ways you can help: 1. We can’t overstate how important it is to reduce what you consume, reuse what you can, recycle what is allowed, and secure your bins to avoid fly-away trash. 2. Sign petitions that support the reduction of plastics in your local area, nationally, and globally. Sign Trash Pirate’s petition to tell your elected officials that you want to see change: https://www.officialtrashpirates.com/litterpickerscampaign 3. Share this article with friends and family and tell them you’re going to reduce your consumption of single-use items and encourage them to do the same.
4. Activate and mobilize: Work with EcoGeneration, Trash Pirates, or Solve in cleaning up the litter around your neighborhoods, parks, streams, and schools. Author Bio Jenna Miller Jenna is the founder of Official Trash Pirates, an organization that focuses on teaching children and their families about the effects of litter and climate change on our world. It is her hope to get people of all ages involved in solving the litter crisis and empowering young people to make a difference in their community. Beyond her work with Trash Pirates, she is the mother of an eight-year-old boy and wife of an active duty Air Force service member. Learn more about Official Trash Pirates at OfficialTrashPirates.com or on their various social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook