Plastic, Chemicals, and Waste – The Real Destroyer of Oceans by Thomas Burleigh

Posted on April 25, 2019

Most people have an opinion on climate change, and typically there’s two sides – denial or acceptance. However, there is a part of this debate that is often not discussed enough – oceanic pollution.

Humanity as a species produce a lot of waste. For thousands of years, the planet could sustain this waste as society had not progressed to a point where it could dramatically effect the ecosystem surrounding it. However, over the past 150 years, society has produced an extremely high amount of physical goods. While some of these goods end up being entirely consumed, there is a large portion that do not, generating waste. As this waste builds up over time, there needs to be a place to put it. Most of this waste ends up in landfills or being recycled, but ultimately, some of it ends up where it shouldn’t – in our oceans.

The oceans can handle a substantial amount of waste, but one thing that we must remember is that the oceans also have their own ecosystems, much like we do on land. By adding waste to them, we dramatically alter these ecosystems which can effect oceanic life.

Micro-plastics is one of the biggest culprits. For example, if we produce a large volume of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials, the pressure of currents and the ocean’s waves will slowly break these materials down, but it will not entirely destroy them. Instead, the result can be tiny micro-plastics that oceanic life may mistake as plants or food and therefore consume. They will attempt to digest this material but as they consume large portions of it, it will slowly kill them off. Inevitably, some of this undigested plastic may be in the stomachs of fish and other wildlife creatures, including ones that we eat ourselves. It’s important that we move away from materials that are not biodegradable to prevent an excess of micro-plastics in our ocean.

Oil and chemical spills are another factor. For example, fish kills can happen quite frequently whenever pesticides and other toxic chemicals are poured into rivers, streams, and lakes. Oil spills can do this as well, but to a larger degree as they’re often bigger and more devastating. Chemical spills can also seep into drinking water through watersheds. This can ruin our most important life-sustaining resource.

It’s no wonder that oceanic life around the world is dying, and that we’re experiencing mass-pollution, mass extinction, and issues in oceanic ecosystems. If we want to preserve our fisheries, and keep our oceans clean, and preserve our drinking water, we must act in a way that’s responsible and sustainable. We need to work together to create biodegradable materials (perhaps hemp-based plastics instead of petrochemical plastics), protect our watersheds, and reduce the amount of toxic chemicals that flow into our oceans.

We must act on this not only to keep ourselves safe for today, but also to keep society as whole alive and sustainable tomorrow.