The world’s oceans, and the marine life that call those oceans home, are under attack.
Employees and volunteers working with Ocean Conservancy, an organization dedicated to protecting the ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it, have picked up more than 324 million pounds of trash since 1986. As impressive as that accomplishment is, when it comes to keeping the world’s oceans clean, the work is never done. According to Ocean Conservancy, scientists estimate that more than eight million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year. If efforts aren’t made to reduce that number, within 10 years there may be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean.
The sheer volume of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year is not the only eyebrow-raising factor to consider in regard to marine debris. The following facts, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shed light on just how significant a threat marine debris poses to the world’s oceans, the wildlife that call those oceans home and even human beings.
Marine debris adversely affects your bottom line. An economic study from the NOAA Marine Debris Program found that residents of Orange County, California, lose millions of dollars each year as a result of marine debris. That’s because people actively seek clean beaches to visit, and will avoid even their local beach if they suspect or see it has a litter problem. By reducing marine debris by just 25 percent in and around Orange County beaches, residents could generate $32 million, which is the amount beachgoers typically spend to visit other beaches during the height of summer beach season.
Marine debris affects more than just your local beach. The NOAA notes that marine debris does not stay put. Some debris sinks, but a lot of it floats. Oceanic currents and atmospheric winds, as well as additional factors, can then carry debris far from its origin. That only highlights the need to support international efforts to reduce marine debris, which is both a local and global threat.
Marine debris is not useless if it’s recovered. Marine debris left in the oceans poses a grave threat to marine life. But marine debris like old fishing gear can be repurposed to serve a much more beneficial function. For example, the NOAA is one of a handful of partners in the Fishing for Energy program, which repurposes, at no cost to fishermen, old fishing gear as part of an effort to convert old nets, line and ropes into electricity that is used to power homes.
Marine debris takes a long time to degrade. The NOAA notes that manmade products are not completely biodegradable. In fact, some products may take hundreds of years to degrade, adversely affecting the world’s oceans and marine life that entire time.