How Polluted Oceans Hurt Us and How We Can Protect Them

How Polluted Oceans Hurt Us and How We Can Protect Them

Oceans and the life they sustain are vital to humankind. Unfortunately, overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten these habitats.

The oceans are one connected body of salt water that covers more than 70 percent of the Earth, and we depend on these waters for human survival. They influence everything from the weather to the food supply to the health of seaside communities. Yet, we are the greatest offenders when it comes to pollution.

The oceans are also teeming with creatures that are critical to our ecosystems. Fish, dolphins, squid, octopuses, eels, and whales populate the open ocean, while lobsters, starfish, oysters, crabs, and snails scurry about the ocean bottom. Mammals like walruses, otters, and polar bears depend on the ocean for their survival as well. Coral reefs are a biome of colorful activity found in shallow, tropical waters.

All areas of the ocean are impacted by human activities. Lost or discarded nets, spilled oil and garbage, runoff, and sewage are all creating dead zones in the oceans. Excess carbon dioxide turns ocean waters acidic, and freshwater from melted glaciers will alter the weather-driving currents.

Heartbreaking Ocean Pollution Facts

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Scientists estimate how much floating garbage is out there, but not even oceanographers can tell us exactly how much –  the oceans are just too big. In 2002, Nature magazine reported that, “…during the 1990s, debris in the waters near Britain doubled; in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica the increase was a hundredfold. And depending on where they sample, oceanographers have found that between 60 and 95 percent of today’s marine debris is made of plastic.”

Where does all this garbage come from?

Plastic and other garbage enters the ocean when people throw it from ships, leave it in the path of the tide, when rivers carry it there, or when sewage systems and storm drains overflow. In spite of the Ocean Dumping Reform Act, “…the US still releases more than 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm runoff every year,” according to a 2004 EPA report.

This problem is significant because plastics do not degrade in seawater. Rather, they accumulate daily, and, thanks to ocean currents, the plastics travel thousands of miles.

As of April of 2017, scientists estimated that about 19 billion pounds of garbage are currently present in the world’s oceans.

“We’re being overwhelmed by our waste,” said Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer who led the 2015 study that determined this staggering number. According to Jambeck, ocean waste amounts will double by 2025 unless we do something on a global scale to reduce ocean waste.

Plastics are the top type of garbage found in the ocean. Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit that organizes an annual coastal cleanup event in more than 150 countries worldwide, estimate that plastic debris makes up around 85 percent of all the trash collected from beaches, waterways and oceans.

Because plastics don’t biodegrade, they simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces as they are exposed to sunlight. These microplastics are shorter than 5 millimeters long, and some are microbeads.

The United Nations Environment Program note that, “…there could be as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in our seas.” What is particularly alarming is the five, enormous swirling garbage convergences called “gyres”. These large garbage islands are the subject of new and innovative ocean cleaning efforts and technology.

One of the most troublesome sources of ocean garbage is litter from single-use plastic products ― plastic bags in particular. These plastics are threatening at least 600 marine life species, including leatherback turtles, whales, and seabirds. These animals mistake the plastics for food and cannot digest them, and the plastics eventually kill the animals.

People need to be educated about how widespread ocean pollution is and how it not only affects marine life, but people and the environment as well.

For example:

  • Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year.
  • The Mississippi River carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, creating a “dead zone” in the Gulf each summer.
  • 40% of the freshwater lakes in the US are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming.
  • 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are dumped into US water every year.
  • In 2010, recycling and composting prevented 85 million tons of pollution.
  • Cleanups can save animals lives and discourage people from littering in the future.

Cleaning up Ocean Pollution

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It is critical that we, as residents on this planet, join together to fight ocean trash. There are multiple agencies, nonprofits, and corporations who are joining the fight, and we can support them.

The International Coastal Cleanup organization started more than 30 years ago, when communities came together to collect and document the trash along their Texas coastlines.

The organization connected with the Texas General Land Office, local businessmen and women, and other ocean-lovers, and planned what would be Ocean Conservancy’s first Cleanup. Volunteers didn’t just pick up trash; they recorded each item collected on a data card in order to help find ways to eradicate ocean trash moving forward.

The Cleanup has grown vastly in 30 years. Volunteers from states and territories across the US and more than 100 countries participate in a Cleanup event every year.

Renee Tuggle, the Texas State Coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup, said, “What I have learned from the Cleanup experience, is that even though the Cleanup started in Texas with a small number of 2,800 volunteers… it has grown into a massive cleanup that involves both national and international volunteers all pitching in for the same common goal of cleaning up our coastal waters and taking care of our beaches. I am proud to be a part of this global movement and I appreciate all of the help and support I get from the Ocean Conservancy staff.”

At a former naval air station in Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco, workers are welding a football field length black tube together. It is a single piece of a larger system designated to attack the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Boyan Slat, the innovator behind the idea, presented his science at a TEDx talk and The Ocean Cleanup idea began. At just 18-years-old, Slat had discovered that cleaning up microplastics and microbeads currently in the ocean could take almost 80,000 years. Now, his organization is poised to clean up a huge majority of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.

There are also things individuals or small groups can do to help:

Be Aware of your Carbon Footprint

Be conscious of your energy use at home and work. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, take the stairs, and avoid oversetting your thermostat.

Make Sustainable Seafood Choices

When you are grocery shopping or dining out, reduce the demand for overexploited species by choosing sustainably sourced seafood.

Use Less Plastic

Plastics kill tens of thousands of marine animals every year. Carry a reusable water bottle, use cloth totes for shopping, and always recycle whenever possible.

Help Care for the Beach

Always clean up after yourself and participate in a beach cleanup. Explore the ocean but don’t interfere with wildlife or remove rocks and coral.

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Don’t Buy Items that Exploit Marine Life

Avoid buying items like coral jewelry, tortoiseshell hair accessories, and shark products.

Be an Ocean Friendly Pet Owner

Read pet food labels and consider seafood sustainability when choosing food for your pet. Don’t stock your aquarium with wild-caught saltwater fish, and never release aquarium fish into natural bodies of water.

Support Organizations that Protect the Ocean

Consider giving financial support or offering your time at volunteering.

Be the Change in Your Community

Research the ocean conservation positions of public officials before voting. Patronize restaurants and markets that offer only sustainable seafood.

Be Responsible when Traveling the Ocean

Practice responsible kayaking, boating, kayaking, and other activities on the water. Don’t ever litter and be aware of marine life in the water.

Educate Yourself About Oceans and Marine Life

The more you learn about this critical system, the more you can share that knowledge to educate others.

What Else Can We Do To Help?

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The threats to our ocean ecosystems seem overwhelming. The oceans experience pollution, overfishing, climate change, and other issues. How can we make a difference as individuals? We can make a big difference starting here:

Connect

Learn about the ocean and how you impact the ecosystem. Read about conservancy and restoration – and then share what you have learned.

Be Water Wise

Reduce your family’s use of chemicals. Use fertilizer minimally, buy organic fruits and veggies, and choose non-toxic cleaning products.

Trim Down Trash

Trash doesn’t disappear. Moving water can carry loose trash to the ocean.

Don’t Live a Disposable Lifestyle

Invest in reusable bags, beverage cups, and non-plastic containers. Always recycle.

Litter Patrol

Never litter and be a part of the solution by participating in beach cleanups.

Be Fish Friendly

Only buy products that you can guarantee were sustainably harvested. Demand sustainable seafood at the grocery store and in at favorite dining spots.

Conclusion

On this little blue planet, we are but one species and we are the most dangerous to all the others. Our oceans and sea life are not replaceable. We can and must do our part to clean, conserve, and improve the conditions in our planet’s oceans.

Without the oceans, we put our lives in jeopardy. Let’s do the smart thing and take care of our oceans.

The Critical Facts You Need To Know About The Clean Water Crisis

The Critical Facts You Need To Know About The Clean Water Crisis

The Critical Facts You Need To Know About The Clean Water Crisis

Water is essential for life. Not only does it connect every aspect of life, it’s a fundamental human need.

Every person requires at least 20-50 liters of clean, safe water daily for drinking, cleaning, cooking and more. And despite scientific advancements, about 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source, with an estimated 2.5 billion people lacking access to improved sanitation.

That’s more than 35 percent of the earth’s population.

As chef Marcus Samuelsson says:

Clean water and access to food are some of the simplest things that we can take for granted each and every day. In places like Africa, these can be some of the hardest resources to attain if you live in a rural area.

Without clean, potable water, or ways to sanitize water, people are left with dirty, deadly water that can make them seriously ill or have fatal outcomes.

Millions of people find themselves in the midst of a clean water crisis.

Much of the world’s population get their water from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, and the vast majority of those people are the world’s poorest people.

According to The Nature Conservancy, about half of the world’s 500 most important rivers – the water sources for hundreds of millions of people – are either seriously polluted or seriously depleted. In other words, millions of people have no option but to draw their water from sources that are rampant with pollution.

In this article, we’re going to give you the what, why, and how of the clean water crisis. In order to make a difference, you need knowledge. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is the Clean Water Crisis?

 

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Put simply, the clean water crisis describes the global epidemic of freshwater pollution and depletion. Every single day, people around the world die from a lack of water, lack of access to sanitation, lack of clean and potable waters, and other waterborne diseases.

Freshwater supplies are limited, water sources are vulnerable, and the poor are often disadvantaged in that many of them live in water-deficient countries.

It’s estimated that about 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation and that about 780 million people don’t have access to an improved water source. Even more:

  • Approximately 801,000 children younger than 5 years of age perish from diarrhea each year, mostly in developing countries.
  • Unsafe drinking water, polluted water used for hygiene, and and inadequate sanitation together contribute to a staggering 88% of deaths from diarrheal diseases.
  • Trachoma, the world’s primary cause of preventable blindness, is the result of poor hygiene and sanitation.

Want it put even more starkly? Every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease that could have been prevented simply by providing access to clean water.

As Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme, says:

If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice.

According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the regions with the lowest coverage of sanitation and potable water are sub-Saharan Africa (at about 31 percent), Southern Asia (at about 33 percent), and Easter Asia (at 65 percent).

Why sub-Saharan Africa? The answer is complicated, just as the water crisis is.

First, Africa is a predominantly arid continent, with little rainfall in many areas. Because of this, atmospheric conditions regularly refresh the water supply.

Additionally, many of the freshwater bodies in Africa are controlled and restricted by governments or hopelessly polluted.

Furthermore, the infrastructure required to bring water from the Congo River (the largest supply of freshwater) to the population at large is incredibly expensive. The countries who need this infrastructure most simply can’t afford it.

Finally, the lack of education regarding sanitary and hygienic use of water results in many people consuming filthy water without being aware of the consequences.

The Effects of Contaminated Water

 

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As briefly noted above, unsafe or polluted water doesn’t just account for fatalities. In fact, unsanitary water can cause numerous waterborne diseases that result in millions off deaths every year.

Over 800,000 children under five years old will die from diarrhea each year that’s been contracted from waterborne illnesses. This amounts to waterborne, diarrheal diseases causing a staggering 11% of the 7.6 millions deaths of children under the age of five.

Millions of people worldwide are also infected with Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) through their water sources. These diseases, like Buruli Ulcer, Trachoma, and Guinea Worm Disease, are most often found in areas with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene practices.

Make no mistake, however. Drinking, cooking with, showering with, and using contaminated water doesn’t just make people sick: using contaminated water is a dangerous, deadly practice.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 3.4 million people die as a result of water-related diseases. Most of the fatalities are young children who die of illnesses caused by organisms that thrive in water sources contaminated by raw sewage.

Because there’s no access to sanitation and no modern plumbing, human waste often mixes with local water systems, as well as things like animal waste, fertilizers, and industrial by-products. All of this leads to immense pollution of potable water sources.

How Can You Help The Clean Water Crisis?

 

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If you have access to clean, drinkable water, you might feel too far removed from this issue to help bring about change. But that’s not the case. There are dozens of things you can do to help with the clean water  crisis.

It’s possible that simply by going about your daily routines, you’re unknowingly contributing of the pollution of our struggling waterways. Educating yourself on how you can change this and what behaviors you can implement to help will go a long way in helping to solve the clean water crisis.

Some simple things to consider are:

  • If you have a dog, pick up after him. Animal waste can leak into storm drains and water supplies, polluting the water supply.
  • Consider about how you treat your toilets and sinks. Sewage treatment processes can be hugely affected by flushing non-degradable products and by  draining paint, oil, or chemical cleaners into sinks.
  • Check your faucets and pipes for leaks so as to not waste water, and even check your water meter for hidden leaks. You can even go as far as installing water-saving shower heads and low-flow faucet aerators.
  • Other simple things like not letting the faucet run, minimizing garbage disposal units, and taking shorter showers can help conserve clean water, too.

On a larger scale, there are bigger things you can do to help conserve clean water, such as donating to programs that are fighting for clean water in these areas. You can also get involved with these programs and offer your services to help people find access to clean water.

Investing in companies and organizations that are fighting for clean water in these regions can help fund reliable water projects that will serve villages and schools.

The Clean Water Crisis: What it Means

Water is a fundamental human need, and each person needs liters upon liters of clean water daily to survive. Unfortunately, people around the world are suffering from lack of clean, potable water. Bodies of freshwater are constantly being depleted and polluted.

This, in turn, leads to millions of illnesses and fatalities every year. Tens of millions of people are made seriously ill or killed by a host of water-related ailments every single year. The saddest part? These illnesses and deaths could be prevented.

The excessive amounts of microbes and chemicals in freshwater sources make it impossible and dangerous to drink, and the contamination is only getting worse.

Because our freshwater sources are limited, it’s absolutely essential that we learn how to conserve and clean our existing water.

We agree wholeheartedly with the World Health Organization, which noted:

In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. Everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.

Clean water is precious. Don’t take it for granted.

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