Researchers are reporting that the earth’s oceans are literally filled with garbage. The surfaces alone are filled with 270,000 tons of plastic broken into 5.25 trillion pieces that have been found in every ocean region of the earth. If one wanted to put it all in a dump truck, one would need almost 39 thousand regular city garbage trucks to do the job.
This latest report only details what is floating on top of the oceans not on the floors beneath. If one were to venture downwards, one would find the accumulation of vast amounts of human produced garbage. If it is not biodegradable and is produced by human beings one can find it at the bottom of the sea. How long it might be there is a matter of some concern. For all intents and purposes some say it will be there for as long as the earth is around.
Whether it is the plastic floating on the ocean’s surfaces or the refuse collecting on ocean floors, humans are sending approximately 7 million tons of rubbish into the oceans of the earth each year. The consequence is that there is litter in every marine habitat in the world including beaches and the deepest most remote parts of the earth’s oceans. In fact, there are places human beings have not yet been in on the ocean floor that are filling with human generated refuse.
The effect of this garbage on all forms of sea life, including above sea life that rely on the oceans for sustenance is incalculable. There is so much in the way of abandoned fishing gear that includes netting and knotted and ever extending fishing lines that sea creatures find themselves trapped in it on a regular basis. Ships that are filled with garbage dump much of it overboard into all of the oceans of the earth figuring perhaps that the great vastness of the ocean will swallow it up and forget it. The problem is it all accumulates and, as this trash collects in small, then ever larger bunches, they become killing fields for aquatic life.
There are now vast islands of refuse drifting across our seas. Known as patches these islands of debris expand as humans continue to dump trash into the oceans. While not necessarily available to the naked eye they are made up of micro plastics and present as thick or viscous soup. This soupy conflation is filled with larger pieces of material like fishing gear and the harder stuff civilization dumps in the oceans like shoes and boots.
Both the island patches as well as the ocean’s floors are dotted with glass and metal debris. There also remains much of the coal residue, known as clinker that the steam ships of old dumped during their ocean voyages. While constant winds and waves break the plastics down into ever smaller pieces, the more resilient garbage remains intact. Some of what is degraded and broken down is ingested by organisms and larger forms of life the results of which are catastrophic. If a creature swims in the ocean or flies above it the creature is at risk of ingesting something that can kill it.
Humanity is now faced with a series of hard choices. Is it going to continue dumping trash into its oceans unabated or is it going to find more earth friendly ways to get rid its waste products. Many communities are promoting what are known as green technologies that are earth-friendly. These allow human beings to continue living with a modicum of quality without dooming the earth and its resources. And like the production of greenhouse gases and their concomitant threat to all forms of life, so likewise do oceans filled with garbage portend poorly for the earth’s collective biosphere.
By Matthew R. Fellows
Photo By: Kai Schreiber Flicker License