In 2008 the United Nations proclaimed June 8 World Oceans Day. This year the theme is Our Oceans, Our Future. The conservation action focus is “encouraging solutions to plastic pollution and preventing marine litter for a healthier ocean and a better future.”
According to the Oceanic Institute, oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water. With such great volume of water, how can litter be a problem?
We’ve all seen litter debris wash up on the beaches ruining the beach aesthetic and posing a potential health problem as beachcombers walk barefoot along the shore and toxins leach out of the litter. Some who have gone snorkeling or diving may have also encountered plastic bags, parts of fishing gear, plastic bottles, etc. below the surface of the ocean. And, of course, there are the entanglement problems: animals with plastic bags or plastic six pack holders wrapped around them. And ingestion situations: sea creatures with assorted garbage in their stomachs.
Particularly unbelievable is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, described as a soupy collection of marine debris—mostly plastics – with estimates measuring it at anywhere from 270,000 square miles (about the size of Texas) to 5,800,000 square miles (more than one and a half times the size of the United States). Similar, though somewhat smaller, swatches of floating litter, primarily large plastic pieces and the small micro-plastics these break down into, exist in the other oceans as well.
And marine litter has permeated even to the deepest parts of the ocean. Dr. Lucy Woodall, a scientist at the University of Oxford, conducted two large-scale surveys of deep sea areas in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and found litter at all locations, despite the depth of the samples and the remoteness of the locations.
And this is just the visible litter. Dr. Woodall’s sampling of deep sea organisms found evidence of ingested fibers in every creature.
This summer, when you head to the beach, be sure to pack out what you bring in. Consider going the extra step and picking up any litter you see.
And remember that the litter problem actually begins miles away from the ocean: our waterways here in Fairfax County go into the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.
Start with an effort to keep our waterways in Fairfax County free from litter. Contact Clean Fairfax if you have seen a trashy area you would like to clean up and need gloves and bags.
For more information about World Oceans Day go to http://www.worldoceansday.org/