Ocean Trash: Polluting Seas and Killing Sea Lions
Ocean trash is invading our seas and turning pristine waters into literal garbage dumps. You know when the garbage disposal clogs up and there’s bits and pieces of kitchen scraps and gunk floating in your dirty sink? … Yeah, well that debris-filled mess bears a scary resemblance to parts of the Pacific Ocean.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Mary Crowley, President of Ocean Voyages Institute and founder of Project Kaisei (the Institute’s clean up initiative), and Dr. Bill van Bonn, staff vet at The Marine Mammal Center, a marine animal hospital and education center, speak about ocean trash — a huge problem affecting our oceans that ALL of us have the power to prevent.
Help reduce ocean trash and save lives! Participate in Coastal Cleanup.
Crowley’s been sailing since age four, and has seen the amount of ocean trash plaguing the Pacific dramatically increase. She knows sailors who’ve been gliding through the water and suddenly found themselves surrounded by garbage….for days.
The most shocking part of Crowley’s voyages? That most of the trash she picks up is regular household items — toothbrushes, bits of plastic, even car fenders! Seventy percent of plastic found in the ocean is from watersheds, beaches, litter, or it blows out of landfills and finds its way to a river. Items we use everyday and would never even THINK would end up in the ocean are making their way to sea, polluting our waters and endangering marine wildlife.
And it’s not just physical trash that’s turning our ocean into a dump — chemical and biological pollution also harm the water and the animals that call it home. The toxic substances we pour down our storm drains, or even household sinks, can flow to the ocean and infect sea lions, dolphins and other marine life.
But by far, the most harrowing and heart-wrenching part of the nights presentations were the photos of animals who came to The Marine Mammal Center because of injuries after ingesting or becoming tangled in our trash. I saw photos of sea lions with bloody, swollen lesions around their necks from packing strips they got tangled up in and one with a piece of a reflector strip sticking out of his mouth — the rest of the strip lodged in his throat and stomach. These animals’ home is becoming a minefield of our trash, and even more tragic is that these animals are the LUCKY ones. Many don’t make it to the center and die out at sea.
Watch some of The Marine Mammal Center’s rehabilitated seal pups go home:
We’re fortunate that people like Mary Crowley are out trawling the ocean for our trash and vets like Dr. van Bonn are able to find, at least, some marine animals and rehabilitate them back to health. But the fact is, our ocean trash is doing a lot of damage. And it will take a much bigger effort to fix this problem we caused. Every time we use plastic grocery bags or water bottles, pour old medication down the sink or toilet, throw away six-pack rings without cutting them up first…we’re contributing to ocean trash and endangering fish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, turtles, and everyone else who has to live in our garbage.
Saturday September 25th is California’s Coastal Cleanup Day. If you’re in California, I urge you to be a part of this joint effort in cleaning up our coastline. And even if you’re not, please help clean our coasts and do everything you can to reduce ocean trash, restore ocean ecosystems and save marine wildlife.
You can also use your butterfly rewards to feed a seal a snack!
Photo from Alan Vernon of Flickr.