It’s pretty impossible to go to the beach without finding a piece of trash tossing about in the surf, or half buried in the sand. Unfortunately, with monstrosities like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch swirling about offshore, it’s unlikely that our coastlines will be trash-free any time soon.
And with the recent news of possible Japanese tsunami debris spotted off the Canadian coast, ocean pollution is no longer a problem countries can tackle on their own. Last year, the Ocean Conservancy decided to conduct a massive, international experiment to help bring awareness to the big problem of marine debris.
During the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers in multiple countries trolled the world’s shorelines, picking up every kind of trash imaginable. And as they collected it, they kept a tally of the most common items that washed up on shore.
Here’s what they found:
“Our volunteers picked up enough food packaging for a person to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years,” said Vikki Spruill, Ocean Conservancy’s President and CEO. “Ocean trash is human-generated, preventable and one of the biggest threats to our ocean and waterways.”
And trash wasn’t all they found. Volunteers encountered reptiles, birds, invertebrates, mammals, fish, and coral species that were killed by plastic bags, fishing line, plastic bottles, and other trash in the ocean.
Although the tsunami is responsible for the spread of some of this debris, most of it is preventable. Making sure glass, plastic, and metals end up in the recycling bin is a big first step. Refusing to litter, even paper or small wrappers, can also reduce ocean pollution dramatically.
“The Cleanup shows beaches suffered from marine debris before the tsunami and will continue to until our vision of Trash Free Seas is realized,” Spruill said. “We must make our ocean more resilient for when unthinkable, unpreventable disasters do occur.
Learn how you can do your part to clean up our coastlines by volunteering for or organizing a beach clean up in your area.
Image via Thinkstock