Projects to Preserve and Protect the Oceans

Plastic Oceans Combating Pollution

Posted May 25, 2011 at 8:00PM

Trash.

You see it on land, you see it floating in water. And more consumers means more trash.

One plastic water bottle quickly turns into a dozen. A dozen soon join another dozen. Before you know it, the sheer volume of trash polluting a river, harbor, or seashore is not only unsightly, but slightly sickening... 

Of that collective trash, our planet's oceans are painfully plagued by record amounts of plastic — 80% of the trash in the sea is plastic.

Environmentalists and scientists have been keeping their eyes on the situation since the 70s, but it has gained more adequate attention and concern from policymakers in the past couple of years especially.turtle eating plastic

Plastic is a primary concern for many reasons. Marine life can become trapped or strangled in it, and they often mistake it for food. But that's only the surface of the issue...

Plastic is not completely biodegradable (not without industrial composters and landfills, which create necessary conditions with high temperatures to fully break it down) like other forms of debris. Even as it begins to naturally disintegrate, fragments are inevitably left behind. Billions of those tiny fragments collect and satiate, forming immense pools that linger just below the water's surface like a layer of congealed film formed near the surface of spoiled soup, left setting too long.   


Unpleasant aesthetics aside, this filmy layer of plastic poses a dangerous threat to nearby sea creatures. It is easily and often swallowed by a variety of marine life, while the water itself absorbs toxic contaminants. In doing so, it affects part of the fundamental fabric that holds the food chain together.   

According to California's executive director of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation Marietta Francis, the plastic goo is taking over the oceans: "It is everywhere and in every water sample that we have collected since 1999." 

The disintegrated plastic is difficult to remove from the oceans because of its delicate size. Experts say better prevention that'll keep more plastic out of the sea is the most idealistic solution to the growing mess.  

Another critical problem is the rapidly increasing rate of plastic production in the United States — predicted to steadily rise from the current 250 million tons created annually.

What can individuals and companies do to alleviate the problem?

Advocate enhanced recycling processes, re-using containers, and keeping packaging to a minimum to avoid excess waste.  

In response to the oceanic complications of the issue, several projects have popped up in hopes of combating problems and increasing public awareness.

Removing and recycling trash from the seas as well as a variety of campaigning efforts are gaining popularity.  

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is one such organization that has taken a strong stance on the issue.  Existing as a solution to marine debris, NOAA instituted a Marine Debris Tracker mobile tracker that allows users to report where and when they discover trash in any water source, nationwide.

As part of the campaign movement, Plastic Oceans Foundation is in the process of developing a complex documentary regarding the problems of plastic in the sea.  Sylvia Earle and David Atteborough are two "environmental grandees" endorsing the film, set to be released to the public in early 2013. Be sure to look for it then.

In the meantime, do your part to keep your hometown waterways plastic-free. As you stroll along your favorite beaches this summer, don't hesitate to remove floating debris.

Just as plastic bottles collect by the dozen, helping hands can, too.  

P.S. You may also want to take a look at this humorous Planet Earth-stlye video documenting the environment, life journeys, and 'struggles' contributing to the life-cylce of the "majestic plastic bag."

Brittany Stepniak