Keepers of the Ocean
2017, Middle School, Prose
Food wrappers. Cigarettes. Plastic grocery bags. All of these are examples of ocean debris that is polluting our water. From chemicals to rogue fishing gear, pollution in the water is not going to stop. But who is causing it? Everyone. Some people go to the beach and litter there, others leave their fishing nets lying in the water, and some may even work at big chemical-producing industries. Although there is a lot of evidence that we are dirtying our waters, many people, including the current White House Administration, don’t think humans are responsible for the ever-growing issue of ocean pollution. But the fact is that individuals are leaving a footprint that will take decades, maybe centuries, to clean up. Even if you pollute the streets of a city that is far from any ocean, the pollutants and debris still find their way to the seas through sewage and drainage pipes.
All water on Earth is connected. Humans are committing an often-forgotten or unrecognized crime. However, if we understand how everyone is harming the environment, then we might stop. This is not just environmentalists’ problem. It’s everyone’s problem. No matter where you live, a harmed ocean is a harmed planet.
In my interview with Marty Snyderman, a marine photographer, author, public speaker, and ocean conservationist, I asked him if ocean pollution could be detrimental to those who don’t have any contact with the ocean. Marty responded, “The truth is that it would be very hard to find a human that is not connected to the ocean in some way. Consider the fact that our oceans produce more than one-half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and every human needs oxygen to live. The oceans also greatly impact our weather, and not just the weather near the coast. Ocean currents and water temperature have a tremendous influence over weather systems all around the world.” (Snyderman interview)
This puts into perspective just how important–and difficult– it is and will be to protect our waters, but that is a cost much cheaper than the fate of our planet. We must change our habits if we want to do our part to protect our waters.
Plastic, the main ocean pollutant, is constantly being dumped into the waters. However, most people don’t know just how much plastic we let slip into the world ocean. The plastic comes from many things, including plastic grocery bags, bottles, plastic beverage holders, and more items from all around the spectrum. In fact, around 14 billion pounds of majorly plastic-based trash are dumped into our oceans every year (Sea Stewards). Additionally, there are probably about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans (5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting). And this waste doesn’t just go away. In fact, it can take around 50 years just for one plastic cup to decompose. And don’t even get me started on plastic bottles, which take an entire 450 years to decompose (Decomposition Rates). This is definitely long enough to become a serious threat to marine life. In the North Pacific Garbage Patch, or “Trash Island,” there are 7 million tons of trash that has been captured in this large gyre (Great Pacific Garbage Patch). And most of it is, you guessed it, plastic! This is an example of surface plastic because this patch of garbage is colossal and has been a huge threat to the marine life in the area. So the saying, “reduce, reuse, recycle” shouldn’t be forgotten.
Recycling plays a big role in this, for if we can keep reducing the amount of plastic we waste and instead reuse it, we can greatly cut down on the amount of plastic that winds up in the world ocean. And that’s not all we can do! According to Annie Crawley, a marine photographer, ocean conservationist, author, and public speaker, “Ignorance is one of the biggest problems facing our world ocean. We need to increase ocean education to combat this” (Annie Crawley Blog). The more we know about plastic pollution, the more focused we’ll be on preventing plastic ocean pollution.
You might be unaware of the monsters that are lurking in the ocean. However, they aren’t ugly, creepy monsters you see in movies. They’re much worse! Derelict fishing gear terrorizes the marine life and can even kill endangered animals and species. From abandoned fishing nets to 80-foot long docking lines, the equipment polluting our oceans is simply made to wreak havoc on the animals. Certain fishing gear is giant–it was reported that there was actually an 11.5 ton fishing net in the ocean (Monster Net). This net, dubbed “monster net,” managed to kill many large marine animals, including sharks, and almost killed an endangered sea turtle. The net also caused huge amounts of damage in coral reefs. This is an example of something called “ghost fishing.” According to an article on www.earthisland.org by Jacob Shea, ghost fishing can ensnare, kill, crush, or starve any marine life, from tiny prawns to sharks and whales. In fact, a Northwestern Straits Marine Conservation Initiative estimate reported that each year, about half a million animals are killed by these underwater terrors (Ghost Fishing).
Stopping this won’t be easy, however. Although divers and conservationists have been trying to help, ghost fishing is an ever-growing problem and will require much more than a small group to take it down. Unfortunately, while participating in these clean-up projects may be easy, getting the support for them isn’t and will probably be harder soon as the conservation groups get defunded. So in order to make any changes to this issue, the entire public must be alerted to it. As Marty Snyderman commented in my interview when asked if understanding these threats would really make a difference, “Knowledge is power … the better informed we are, the wiser the decisions we can make.”
Imagine invisible parasites tearing away at your body until you are nothing but a lifeless figure. The ocean has thousands of chemicals that can do the same to the marine life, wiping out certain groups of marine animals. Every day, industries are dumping harmful chemicals and substances into the waterways. These pollutants span from mercury to nitrates, messing with the marine ecosystems and killing many sea creatures (Water Pollution Guide). Lead and mercury are the perfect examples of this, being both hard to control and deadly to the animals. An article in the New York Times reported that a small town in Canada that is right next to a river had a huge mercury-dumping incident about forty years ago. Even now, inhabitants in the area are still suffering from mercury poisoning, for the town’s main source of protein was through the fishing industry. Later, someone from Dryden Paper Mill, the suspect industry behind this, admitted that he remembered shoveling mercury into the water. This was a prominent case, for it greatly affected the fish in the river, killing almost all of them. It is believed that there were more than 20,000 pounds of raw mercury in the water at the time, which just shows what havoc industries can create with their harmful omissions. (Mercury Poisoning)
Since the industries aren’t going to change by themselves, what can individuals do to fix this? An article on www.ocean.si.edu claims that “You can help keep the ocean–and other waterways–healthy by reducing your family’s use of chemicals inside and out.” According to the article, we can help “slow global warming and ocean acidification by reducing [our] ‘carbon footprint’–the amount of carbon dioxide released as [we] go about [our] daily activities,” among many other things.
While industries may have a deep carbon footprint, all humans have a role in the chemicals that reach our oceans. I can understand some claims that believe there are too many regulations on what individuals and industries can do. Some corporations, like Tyson Foods from Springdale, Arkansas don’t invest enough money or time into creating environmentally friendly products or factories. Perhaps, like many other corporations and industries, Tyson Foods believes that greatly reducing your negative impact on the world ocean is very expensive. These corporations are correct when they say this, for making products environmentally friendly is certainly not cheap. However, it is not only Tyson Foods at fault. At an annual shareholder meeting on February 5, 2016, Tyson Foods’ shareholders were given a proposal to go eco- and water-friendly in their production. Instead of approving this, the shareholders voted to keep the production the same, with around 197 million people in favor of the change as opposed to the whopping 714 million votes against.
As illustrated by this example, individuals also have the choice to help save the oceans, but a huge number of them don’t; instead they just want to save or make money. In Snyderman’s interview, I asked him if the current administration should issue more regulations limiting industry omissions and chemical releases. He reasoned, “It is [easy] to put businesses out of business. And when people lose their income they cannot afford to think about the environment before thinking about feeding their families and putting a roof over their head.” This is an excellent point that many industries make.
But the regulations are necessary to save our oceans. While many people are thinking of the costs of helping the oceans, they aren’t thinking of the very serious costs of neglecting their duties. For example, the ocean produces more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, which is essential to every human being, and also greatly affects how the weather patterns change around the world. So let’s get to work, raising awareness about ghost fishing, or cleaning up our plastic footprint by recycling more, perhaps speaking out against the industries’ carbon footprints, and maybe even teaching the community around us how to help in the fight against ocean pollution. Most of the world is ocean, so in order to make the world a better place, we have to save the oceans, and in order to save the oceans, we have to assume our role as keepers of the ocean. As former President Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. ” We cannot put this off to another day, for it is every day that the ocean is harmed. Real difference comes with real change.
Conant, Eve. “Hunting for an 11-Ton Fishing Net in the War Against Ocean Trash.” 8 June 2015. (Monster Net) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150608-ocean-trash-hawaii-endangered-species-marine-science-fishing/
Crawley, Annie. Newman, Patricia. Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch . Lerner Publishers. Copyright 1 April 2014.
Crawley, Annie. “Ocean Education Questions by Students.” Blog. (Annie Crawley Blog) https://www.anniecrawley.com/blog/ocean-education-questions-by-students/
Furlong, Hannah. “Tyson Foods Dumps More Pollution Into Waterways Each Year than ExxonMobil.” 12 February 2016 (Tyson Foods)
“Garbage Patch-The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Other Pollution Issues.” (Great Pacific Garbage Patch) http://garbagepatch.net/greatpacificoceangarbagepatchfacts/
Goldberg, Susan. “The Town where Mercury Still Rises.” 19 April 2017. (Mercury Poisoning). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/opinion/the-town-where-mercury-still-rises.html?_r=0
Marine Debris and Plastics.” (Sea Stewards) https://seastewards.org/projects/healthy-oceans-initiative/marine-debris-and-plastics/
O’Connor, Kari. “How Long Does it Take a Plastic Bottle to Biodegrade?” 31 October 2011. (Decomposition Rates) http://www.postconsumers.com/education/how-long-does-it-take-a-plastic-bottle-to-biodegrade/
Parker, Laura. “Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces of Plastic, but Big Questions Remain.” 11 January 2015. (5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting)
Shea, Jacob. “Ghost Fishing Nets: Invisible Killers in the Ocean.” 7 January 2014. (Ghost Fishing) http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/ghost_fishing_nets_invisible_killers_in_the_oceans/
Snyderman, Marty. E-mail Interview. 22 February 2017 until 2 March 2017 (Marty Snyderman Interview)
Stevens, Allison Pearce. “Tiny Plastic, Big Problem.” 10 April 2015 https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/tiny-plastic-big-problem\
Water Pollution Guide.” http://www.water-pollution.org.uk/7
My interest in politics helped convince me to write this. As water pollution was highlighted by the North Dakota Access Pipeline project and the controversy of climate change from the current administration, I realized that writing about this issue could make a difference, while teaching me about our ever-changing world. This has been a great opportunity for me to become passionate about a real issue plaguing our world. I hope my essay inspires others to recognize their roles as the keepers of the ocean.