Now believe it or not our oceans cover 70% of our planet – 321,000,000 cubic miles of water – and according to the World register of Marine Species are home to 233,647 accepted species. Scientists have recently estimated that that only 5% of our oceans have been explored, leaving the remaining 95% still an absolute mystery!
Being such a vast untouched part of our planet, why is it that humans have such an impact on something that we have barely explored?
Plastic pollution is one of the leading pollutants crippling our oceans ecosystems globally. Its estimated that 8 million tonnes of non-recycled plastic is entering our oceans every year, travelling through drains, rivers or sewer systems.
This plastic does not just disappear. It ends up on beaches, remote islands, mistakenly eaten by marine life or on the ocean floor. Up to 1 million marine animals annually die a slow and agonizing death from entanglement or consumption.
So how and when does plastic breakdown?
Plastic is used commercially for its durability and ability to last the test of time. Unfortunately, this is creating an irreversible environmental crisis.
Plastic breaks down when its exposed to heat and sunlight. The oceans lack-of causes its plastic to breakdown at an extremely slow rate. As the plastic does eventually break down, micro plastics are formed filling our beaches and oceans with trillions of pieces of the micro-pollutant each year.
5 Gyres – Garbage Patches
5 Gyres is an organization that has been traveling the world for 10 years in search of ocean pollution. Over the course of this time they have located 5 hot spots where “microplastics” congregate, creating as they call it “a smog” of broken-down plastic. The currents are pushing these congregations to the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.
This garbage is not just breaking down, its degrading into smaller and smaller pieces choking the oceans ecosystems and killing marine life.
These hot spots or “garbage patches” equates to 270,000 metric tons, only 1% of the plastic ending up in our oceans.
Other types of pollution
Our footprint on the oceans does not just stop with plastic pollution. The oceans are contaminated with chemicals every day. These chemicals range from shower products, dish washing products, car wash run-off, fuel and oil leaks from boats, and sunscreen which washes off at the beach. – the list is endless. Any product used that is not eco-friendly or biodegradable can have devastating effects on not only our oceans and marine life but the wider environment also.
Recent scientific studies have shown that almost all marine life has been affected by chemical pollution in some way. This is creating a flow on effect for humans that rely on sea food as a staple food source.
The offshore oil industry over the past few decades has proved another large source of chemical pollution. Two of the most recent and well-known catastrophes had devasting effects on the ecosystem.
- Kuwait was the largest oil spill, which occurred during the Gulf war on the 19th of January 1991. This was a result of the Iraqi forces opening the oil valves to slow down American troops. Releasing 1.25 billion litres of oil, covering 6500 square kilometers.
- Deepwater Horizon, known as the largest accidental spill in history. This occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on the 22nd of April 2010. There was an estimated 800 million litres of oil released, flowing for 85 days until the oil well was capped on 15th of July 2010. This oil spill covered 940 kilometers of beaches killing thousands of birds and marine life. The environmental impacts are expected to last many years from this one spill alone.
How can we help?
We can all help by changing our mindset on the environment. Help by being conscious to the products we use, the single use plastics we buy and managing our chemical use.
If you are in an industry that works with chemicals, be conscious of how that chemical is being disposed of.
Participation in community beach cleans or environmental cleans.
Donations to select environmental charities – be sure to do some research into what each charity is about before you donate.