Getting a Starbucks fix, gassing up the car, walking the dog, getting enough protein and scrolling every possible Facebook post. These are just a few everyday things that people feel need top priority, leaving much important, useful information lost in the cracks. In our busy lives, topics like oceanic pollution seem pointless and unworthy of our attention. But from the surface to the ocean floor, we need to take a long look at what’s become of our oceans. Careful, though, it might make you seasick.
A common misconception about oceanic pollution is that it’s separate from people and what they do on land, especially people who don’t live near the ocean. The truth is that a majority, nearly 80 percent, of pollution in our oceans comes from the land, whether it’s directly placed there or appears as runoff over time. The cars we drive, products we buy (especially plastics), and a myriad of other things we casually use and discard incorrectly each day of our lives contributes enormously to a much larger problem, and people are having a tough time changing their ways.
Our trash, with time, finds a new home in our oceans, typically within five major destinations – giant trash heaps called “the five gyres.” The North Pacific Gyre, located between Hawaii and the western coast of the United States, is the largest trash conglomerate, or landfill, in the world weighing in at approximately 3.5 million tons, swirling around, not just on the surface, but thousands of meters deep.
Although these islands are not as glamorous as the ones we spend our honeymoons on, they’re large enough, some the size of Europe, to be easily spotted on a globe. Collectively, these massive landfills are roughly 90 percent plastic, according to National Geographic, pulling the trash from currents all across the world. So, know that the next time you drop a plastic bottle in a creek by your backyard, it has incredible potential to eventually make its way to a much bigger mess.
If that doesn’t make your head spin, the impact on marine and avian life alone is enough to bring up your lunch. More than a million birds and nearly 300 separate species of marine life are killed off in droves each year by plastics alone. A plastic bag is not like a bee, dying off after it stings one innocent creature, but instead has the capacity to carry on for centuries, killing off countless wildlife in and around our oceans. This then begs the question, “Why do we continue to use them if they’re so harmful?”
In addition to overfishing, which is the killing of endangered fish to the point of extinction, the ironic cost of free plastics is alarmingly high and getting worse, transforming luxuries like seafood, surfing and fishing into tragedies for our future children. When people lazily discard their coffee cups someplace other than a recycling can, or toss trash in the woods thinking they’re the only ones, they are just one in several million who think alike.
If one of your friends took a crap on your lawn, whether or not you had it coming, it could be quickly removed and your smelly fingers easily cleaned. But if every single person you knew crapped on your lawn, you’d be living in a shithole, literally, and then you’d really have to get your hands dirty. It seems like a weird analogy, but it’s the same as tossing trash in the ocean. Although you may not walk up, toss it in the water yourself and spit on the sand, it eventually gets there; you just don’t know it yet. When enough people follow the same pattern, it becomes an overwhelming problem, and thus crucial for people to shift their understanding.
(Pictured here is a sick sea turtle rescued near San Diego. It had ingested plastic from trash in the ocean.)
People are slowly catching on, but now it’s your turn to join the herd. It’s high time we all understood the world we live in, made the proper changes and quit crapping on our home.
Although technology has opened our eyes to a world of new things, like watching a concert through a photo lens and knowing exactly where everyone is while they are thinking about traffic and the weather, it has also oversaturated our eyes with options on where we can place our focus, and unfortunately for our world’s oceans, people don’t tend to reach for the environmental section as much as they should.
Beach cleanups aren’t just for the criminally convicted chain gangs anymore. They’re lead by people who see the problem and see hope in finding a solution. Although not everyone can make their way to the sand, everybody has plastic in their lives, so if we’re privileged enough to use it, we should be responsible enough to know what to do with these plastics when we’re done. Better yet, buy a reusable water bottle, ride your bike to work more often and do your part as a member of this pretty little place we call planet Earth before she becomes one giant landfill, and we just smell like shit all over.