Why should you care about our oceans?
Before I jump into explaining how bad pollution is for our oceans, I think it is best to take a step back and explain why you should care about the state of our oceans.
Ok, here goes.
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), oceans are among the earth’s most valuable natural resources, covering over 70% of our planet.
They govern the weather, clean the air, help feed the world, and provide a living for millions.
Oceans are also home to most of the life on earth, from microscopic algae to the blue whale, the largest animal on the planet.
I think we can agree that oceans play an important part in our existence, right?
So, it’s not a far jump to take when I say that pollution is bad. I think this is a pretty uncontroversial statement.
I mean, I know that pollution is bad but I want to know specifically just how bad it is for our oceans.
Ocean pollution is quite a broad topic, yes, so I want to break it down and answer these questions:
- What kind of pollution is harming the oceans?
- What harm is the pollution causing?
- What can we do at home in our every day lives to lessen our contribution of ocean pollution?
Types of Ocean Pollution
There are two categories of pollution that most ocean pollution falls into, so let’s take some time and learn a little bit, shall we?
Nonpoint Source Pollution
According to the EPA, nonpoint source pollution comes from many diffuse sources such as land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, and seepage.
It is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.
Types of Nonpoint Source Pollution:
- Excess fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides used in agricultural and residential areas
- Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production
- Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding stream banks
- Salt from irrigation, and acid drainage from abandoned mines
- Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes and faulty septic systems
To sum up, nonpoint source pollution comes from many different sources, not one identifiable source. It is brought to the ocean and other wetlands by rainfall and runoff.
This brings us to…
Point Source Pollution
Any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharged, such as a pipe, ditch, ship or factory smokestack. One main example would be an oil spill in the ocean.
Essentially, this form of pollution is from a known source and deposited directly into our waters.
How is pollution harming our ocean life?
Let’s look at a few ways that pollution harms our oceans, other bodies of water, and marine life.
Is caused by nonpoint source pollution. When fossil fuels burn, they pollute the land and oceans too. Our seas absorb over 25% of all man-made carbon emissions.
These carbon emissions change the pH of our oceans, causing them to become more acidic.
What does this mean?
Marine ecosystems get thrown totally out of whack. Calcium carbonate levels go waaay down when the water is acidified.
What is affected by calcium carbonate?
Glad you asked.
Creatures such as mussels, clams, coral, and oysters rely on calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons.
Maybe you’re thinking that these guys are at the bottom of the food chain, so is it really a big deal?
Well, their destruction creates a ripple up effect, where many fish, seabirds, and marine mammals suffer because they have less to eat.
More acidic water also contributes to bleaching of coral reefs (loss of pigmentation) which makes it harder for fish to sense predators, and for others to hunt for prey.
I would hope this would go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.
“Trash does not naturally occur in oceans.”
I know that may be a shock to some of us since trash is so plentiful in and around the oceans and other bodies of water. But it really shouldn’t be there.
Plastic is the major contributor to ocean trash. This is because it does not biodegrade. So all those plastic grocery bags, water bottles, straws, frappuccino cups, and any other single-use plastic trash most of us humans use on a regular basis end up in our oceans forever.
This plastic trash pollutes our beaches, entangles marine life, and gets ingested by fish and seabirds.
80% of all marine trash originates from land, and not only from beaches but from inland as well with help from storm drains, sewers, and other routes.
I think we all know that oil and gas is not a shining example of an environmentally friendly industry.
In fact, it is quite the opposite. According to the NRDC, the oil and gas industry’s routine operations emit toxic by-products, release high levels of greenhouse gases, and lead to thousands of spills in U.S. waters annually.
That oil can linger for decades and do irreversible damage to delicate marine ecosystems.
According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters, and the water repellency of a bird’s feathers, thus exposing these creatures to the harsh elements.
Without the ability to repel water and insulate from the cold water, birds and mammals die from hypothermia.
Many birds and animals also ingest oil when they try to clean themselves, which can poison them.
Fish and shellfish may not be exposed immediately but can come into contact with oil if it is mixed into the water.
When exposed to oil, adult fish may experience reduced growth, enlarged livers, changes in heart and respiration rates, fin erosion, and reproduction impairment.
Oil also adversely affects eggs and larval survival.
Yikes. Even small spills that we don’t hear about in the media have devastating effects on marine life.
Not only are oil spills horrible for the ocean ecosystem, but cleaning efforts remove just a fraction of the oil AND the chemicals used to ‘clean up the spill’ are pollutants themselves. Wonderful.
Pretty much a lose-lose situation for oceans and marine life.
What can we do?
This can feel like a lost cause to those of us sitting at home reading (and writing) this article.
It feels like it is too big of a problem for individuals to deal with.
Well, you’re right. It’s a huge problem but not taking any action against pollution is the same as turning a blind eye to the situation.
While our individual efforts may not be enough on their own to save our oceans and marine life, together with other like-minded individuals, we can make a difference.
It starts at home.
So what can we do at home to help decrease our contribution to ocean pollution?
Since a major contributor to ocean trash is plastic, we can reduce the amount of plastic we use at home.
We can do this by:
- Reducing or eliminating disposable plastic items from our cupboards: These include straws, plastic bags, plastic utensils, plastic wrap, bottled water, really any single-use plastic items you have kicking around.
It may not be feasible for you to go and get rid of everything at once, but I have found that a gradual approach works well. I have accumulated quite a few reusable grocery bags and have invested in some reusable fruit and veggie bags, so I take this grocery shopping instead of using plastic bags from the store.
I also just bought some reusable straws so I can finish up the plastic ones I have and never buy them again (I hope). Stay tuned for a thorough review of these straws (I know, you can’t wait!).
Slowly but surely, I am making an effort to reduce my plastic consumption and do you know what? It hasn’t been too traumatizing or even that difficult to be honest. Taking a gradual approach is a pretty realistic option, in my opinion.
- Recycle: It should go without saying that recycling is an important part of keeping our oceans clean. The more plastic recycled, the less there is in our oceans. Be sure to google your community’s recycling program to make sure you’re recycling correctly.
- Skip the Microbeads: These are found in skin care products like exfoliants and body washes. These tiny plastic scrubbers are so small that they slip through water-treatment plants and into our bodies of water where marine life mistake them for food. Never fear though, nature has you covered. Ingredients like oatmeal and salt can do the trick too.
- Buy in Bulk: Purchasing individual packets of items creates more trash. Try buying a tub of yogourt and portion it out in reusable containers rather than purchasing individual containers. Is it a bit more work for you, yes, but like anything else, it will become second nature over time. Also, many bulk food stores allow you to bring in your own reusable containers instead of using their plastic bags which is pretty cool since you not only cut down on plastic usage but also get the exact amount of product you want to fill your container perfectly.
other ways to limit our ocean pollution
- Support Sustainable Companies: Use your almighty dollar to support companies that are doing good by the environment. If you’re not sure if a company is using best sustainability practices, check out my product review section, or simply google them.
- Down the Drain: This may go without saying, but, try not to pour questionable products down your sink. Including cleaners, paint, oil, and any other liquid with potentially toxic ingredients. Instead, take a minute and google your municipality’s hazardous waste collection practices and dispose of it correctly, even if you have to make an effort. DO IT!
- Do NOT Flush it Away: Similar to down the drain, please don’t flush non-biodegradable or non-flushable products. Items like baby wipes or plastic tampon applicators can throw a huge wrench into the sewage treatment process and wind up littering beaches and water. Gross, who wants to walk over sewage trash while out for a stroll on the beach?
- Properly Maintain your Vehicle: Any type of fluid leak can end up in the storm drains and subsequently in our waterways. Also, try to avoid washing your vehicle in your driveway where all the dirt and build-up along with the cleaning products used will end up in the storm drains also. Take it to a car wash facility instead and do it yourself there, or take it easy and go through the car wash. Water from the car wash is required to be drained in the sewer system where it is treated before being discharged. Also, many car washes recycle their water.
I really do believe that small steps taken at home have a big impact on controlling our pollution and have a positive effect on our environment as a whole.
Let me know what you are doing at home to help our environment in the comment section below, I would love to hear from you!