Imagine a pile of trash the size of Texas filled with millions of pieces of plastic. Now imagine that pile just swirling around in a huge vortex somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
Well, it is not imaginary anymore, it is real. Pollution in the world’s oceans has become a global crisis. Visible pollution, such as trash and plastics, are only one component in the ginormous catastrophe that is pollution as a whole. Earth’s oceans are endangered by human-created pollution, varying from trash and plastic pollution, to fertilizer pollution, and noise pollution.Trash and plastic pollution is the most acknowledged type because of its visibility on coastlines. However, this issue extends far beyond the damaged aesthetic of the beautiful stretches of resort beaches. To put into the perspective the intense scale of this issue, Ocean Portal, the ocean branch of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, has estimated that the Earth’s oceans are littered with 8 Million metric tons of plastic trash every year.
This is the equivalent of 5 plastic bags filled with trash for every foot of coast line around the world (Benson). With these amounts of plastics floating around, giant trash vortexes, made primarily of plastic, have been created across the globe. The largest of all trash vortexes, the Great Pacific Garbage Vortex, has dimensions larger than Texas. While assessing the damage done by the vortex, the team at Ecowatch discovered that the vortex’s trash pieces outweigh sea life 1:6 (Ecowatch.com). Not only have these vortexes completely destroyed sea creatures’ environment, plastics will also fool innocent sea animals into thinking the trash is prey. Animals will often choke on these plastics, and inevitably die. If they do not die immediately, they will die slowly due to the nutrient deficiency of their newfound plastic diets.
Since single use plastics account for 50% of all plastic production (ecowatch.com), eliminating these unnecessary plastics will drastically reduce the exponential growth of these vortexes. And in turn, this will save millions of wonderful creatures’ lives and restore beauty and balance to Earth’s oceans.
Agricultural runoff in the ocean has also become a huge detriment to the environment. Fertilizers from agricultural farms are chalk-full of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, vital nutrients that stimulate the growth of algae in the ocean, leading to harmful algal blooms known as red tides. In Stanford’s News article, Mark Shwartz interviews Stanford doctoral candidate, Michael Beman, who states, “‘I looked at five years of satellite data,’ said Beman, lead author of the study on algal blooms. ‘There were roughly four irrigation events per year, and right after each one, you’d see a bloom appear within a matter of days,'” (Schwartz). Beman’s study makes it easy to see that agricultural runoff through irrigation definitely has direct correlation to the red tides, and even draw the conclusion that runoff is the leading cause of these harmful red tides. Red tides are so harmful because of the toxins they release into the air.
In the article “Red Tide – A Harmful Algal Bloom”, Montana State University student Monica Buckner explains that, “the algal bloom may also deplete oxygen in the waters and/or release toxins that may cause illness in humans and other animals,” (Buckner). For starters, depleting the oxygen in the water will change the entire underwater environment making it uninhabitable for marine life specific to the area. Marine life will be forced to leave or die if oxygen depletion in the area continues. Secondly, the toxins released by algae become airborne, and that enough can cause illness in humans and other sea life. The red tides created by humans are coming back in a vicious cycle of karma and poisoning mankind.
Without intervention for fertilizer runoff regulations, coastal areas will continue to be bombarded with toxins produced by red tides, intoxicating families, fish, and any other living organism in the vicinity. Not all ocean pollution is visible. Noise pollution is beginning to become another part of the catastrophe known as ocean pollution. Noise pollution is caused by loud ships, oil rigs, and other industrial ventures taking place in the oceans. In an interview with Richard Stifford, Christopher Clark, a marine scientist, who has dedicated his career to listening to Earth’s oceans, explains how noise pollution works, stating, “‘When the sound from that oil explosion travels through the ocean, it changes from a big bang into this big fuzzy ball of reverberating noise. The energy from all these explosions fills the oceans with noise. It becomes just one big storm of noise,'”(Stifford).
Clark is explaining how, even after the initial explosion, those sound waves continue traveling throughout the ocean mixing with other sound waves and creating a indecipherable “storm of noise”. This storm affects the way marine animals are able to communicate with each other. Clark goes on to explain how noise storms specifically affect whales, stating “Many whale feeding grounds and migratory routes occur along shallow coastlines, which are now some of the noisiest, most heavily impacted habitats,” (Stifford). Whales are one of the most intelligent marine animals, who rely on the use of special sounds, or calls, to communicate with each other for reproduction, migration, and feeding; so when their habitats are bombarded with extra sounds, their ability to communicate is diminished. If their ability to communicate, which they’ve relied upon for millions of years, is disturbed, the consequences for their species could be dire. However, whales aren’t the only animals affected by noise pollution, many other species are being similarly affected by the human-created noise pollution in Earth’s oceans.
Noise pollution has become yet another addition to the mess humans have created in the oceans. Fortunately, there is still time to act. Pollution is not something that can be reversed overnight, but there are still ways government and society can make a dramatic impact. To help impact the trash and plastic pollution in the oceans, single use plastics need to be eliminated.
This starts on a personal level; refuse to single use any plastic item. Single use plastics include one-time, plastic water bottles; six pack rings; plastic grocery bags; etc. What happens on an individual basis, does make an impact. Secondly, to help fix the fertilizer poisoning, global governments need to make stricter regulations on the amount of fertilizer permitted per farm, and ban fertilizers for residential use.
By lowering the amount of agricultural runoff, and eliminating any excess coming from coastal residencies, the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium stimulating the toxic algal blooms will be lowered, and, in turn, lower the frequency and toxicity of algal blooms. Lastly, noise pollution is not recognized by the government at all. The United States needs to set a precedent for other world leaders by restricting the amount of sound decibels that can be emitted by large ships and oil companies in the ocean. Any decrease in sound throughout the ocean can help save marine lives, and preserve the natural patterns of life throughout the ocean that have been ongoing for the last million years. Change is possible, but it starts on an individual level. So write your congressman about these issues demanding reform, and refuse to single use any plastics. A revolution is in the making, but it starts with just one person.
Pollution in the ocean is a global crisis that has gone under the radar for far too long. Ocean pollution is a multi-sided mess made up from too many human mistakes. Trash and plastic pollution, fertilizer pollution, and noise pollution are all just smaller components making up Earth’s worst nightmare. The ocean is the source of life for every living creature on the planet, and it is not too late to save what has given mankind everything.