The following sample essay on “Trash in the ocean”: is a story about the pollution of the oceans and how it affects living things.
Trash, especially plastics, can be found across the world’s oceans because of its buoyancy and resilience (Erikson et al.). Because plastic releases toxins into the environment, researchers have stressed that if they are found in the ocean, it should be treated as hazardous waste. The accumulation of plastic pollution can also be found in bays, gulfs, and seas that are heavily populated along their watersheds and coasts.
The impact that plastic pollution has had on ocean animals and plants including zooplankton, marine reptiles, and seabirds through entanglement and ingestion has been well-documented. The continuation of floating plastics within the world’s oceans illustrates the urgency of the need to monitor its impacts and to create ways to decrease the number of plastics and their global dispersion. According to Erikson et al., there is a lack of data regarding estimates of the amount and weight of floating plastics, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, illustrating the need for further studies to be performed immediately to address the complete severity of the situation.
Marine pollution threatens both marine life and human life. Irresponsible human activity leads to huge deposits of trash in oceans which consequently creates an imbalance in the oceanic ecosystem (Baumgartner, Iver, Duedall & Kester, 13). The causes of the effects of trash in oceans correlate to measures to protect the marine environment from pollution.
Ocean dumping occurs naturally or as a result of irresponsible trash management which contributes to increased trash deposits in oceans.
The materials dumped in oceans include garbage and other forms of manufacturing waste material from factories, ocean tankers, and sewage waste. Such pollutants contain hazardous chemical components like mercury and radioactive material that kill marine life after consumption. (Kumpf, 29) points out that channeling of sewer waste into oceans spreads organisms that inhibit the natural growth of marine life in contaminated areas.
Almost 70% of trash in oceans is a result of storm run-offs, which entails trash flowing into the marine environment by floating on rivers draining into the ocean (Baumann, 38). Through this kind of pollution, rivers collect harmful pollutants such as plastics, inorganic fertilizers, and pesticides during floods and drain them into oceans and seas (Kumpf, 17) Inorganic fertilizers and pesticides are particularly harmful to marine life because they contain harmful chemicals that disrupt ocean ecosystems and lead to the creation of dead zones in the water.
Oil spills from tankers transporting oil and offshore drill rigs are a major cause of trash and ocean pollution because the metallic debris from drills and accidental oil spills poses a threat to marine life (Duquette et.al, 63) There have been incidents of oils spillage such as the Deepwater Horizon and Atlantic Express that lead to huge amounts of loss of marine life. Oil spillage affects both the environment and the economy due to the loss of oil and the costly ocean clean-up and restoration efforts (Nellemann, Hain & Alder, 43). Seabirds are most affected by oil spills because their wings get covered by the slick oil hindering their ability to fly and thus leading to death. Seabird populations exposed to oil spillage have been observed to drastically reduce which also decreases marine mammal populations due to food chain disruption.
Human activity on the beach also contributes to littering and trash build-up on the oceanfront. The litter is then carried into the ocean by waves, where some of it floats and the rest is deposited on the ocean floor affecting the coral reef. Activity such as beach parties has adverse effects in instances where people don’t collect trash from the beach and it leads to the accumulation of non-degradable plastics (Parker & Menzel, 31). The non-degradable trash chokes fish when consumed and also entangles some marine mammals leading to slow and painful deaths. Examples of such plastic trash include single-use plastics such as party cups, straws, plastic cigarette butts, and films of plastic food wrappers.
Trash pollution leads to depletion of oxygen in the water, this often happens after oils spill when there is increased methane gas in the water. Methane causes chains of exothermic reactions that suck out the water oxygen levels in the water. The lack of oxygen drives away marine life such as Crabs, Turtles, and Sharks and they move closer to shore causing a threat to human life. Marine biologists have recorded such occurrences following the BP-Shell oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico that created huge dead zones in the ocean leading to increasing Shark presence off the coast of Alabama. An increase in bio-degradable waste in the ocean also has a reverse effect on oxygen depletion. Microorganisms present in the ocean feed on the bio-degradable trash and thus increased trash deposits amount to the growth of microorganism populations in the ocean that consequently take up most of the oxygen in the water (Nellemann, Hain & Alder, 43). Reduced oxygen levels lead to the deaths of aerobic water microorganisms and an increase in populations of harmful anaerobic microorganisms that produce Sulfide and Ammonia in the water. Both Sulfide and Ammonia are toxic and harmful to marine life and human life.
Toxic waste in water directly injures fish and indirectly has adverse health effects on humans who feed on fish. Bio-magnification defines such a process whereby humans who are at the top of the food chain are more likely to suffer devastating consequences from the presence of toxic waste in the water. Toxic waste consumed by fish such as radioactive material and Mercury has adverse effects on humans such as gene mutations, birth defects, and food poisoning (Parker & Menzel, 37). Consuming contaminated meat from fish exposes humans to life-threatening health problems that continue to spread with increased trash deposits in oceans. Toxic trash is also retained in marine mammals’ blubbers which prolongs the duration of exposure to toxic material. Sentinel species such as Harbor Seals that don’t migrate contribute to prolonged exposure to toxic material since the toxins are absorbed by their thick layers of blubber and the seals remain in the same waters for a lifetime. This exposes other marine life such as Dolphins to toxic contaminants; Dolphins feed on the Harbor Seals and ingest the contaminants resulting in generational exposure to debilitating effects of the contaminants (Career, 14). Mothers pass down the contaminants to offspring through breast milk and this creates a population of contaminated Dolphins. In regions such as Japan, authorities are controlling the fishing of Dolphins for meat after detecting high levels of Mercury in the meat and other toxins such as pesticides that have been determined to cause low sperm count among men who regularly consume the Dolphin meat.
Some microbes thrive on plastic surfaces and we expose sea life to such microbes when plastic gets to the ocean. Some of the plastisphere thriving microbes are harmful to Fish and Coral Reef which is detrimental because plastic is non-biodegradable and so the microbes on plastic deposited in oceans have prolonged life spans. Scientists are studying some strings of plastisphere thriving microbes since some have been found to consume plastic. This could lead to a potential breakthrough in discovering microorganisms that can break down plastic which will lead to the development of ways for plastic to interact with the environment.
Populations of sea mammals and seabirds are most affected by trash. Marine biologists have indicated that the population of the various species of Sea Turtles has fallen below 50% due to trash and illegal fishing activities (Baumgartner, Iver, Duedall & Kester, 19). Sea mammals’ populations are also reducing due to deaths associated with ingesting plastic material, such as deaths resulting from digestive disorders and intestinal injuries because of the digestive system’s inability to digest plastic. Sea Turtles, for instance, consume huge chunks of plastic garbage waste resulting in the development of ulceration complications and blocking of the gut, both leading to death. This has adverse effects on reproduction because as current populations reduce, active reproduction rates decrease as well leading to a threat of extinction (Baumann, 42). Seabirds often get trapped in plastic debris and die while looking for food, consumption of plastic material also injures their digestive systems and hinders their flying leading to death due to lack of food. Seabirds are mostly attracted by the colorful plastic debris confusing them for food and some end up suffocating under the heaps of plastic debris due to lack of oxygen. Illegal fishermen dispose of plastic nets in water that consequently traps sea mammals such as sea turtles, these are referred to as “ghost nets” which limit the movement of the turtles within the net and they consequently die from entanglement and lack of access to food.
Among the ways of reducing and controlling trash pollution in oceans is the social conformity and adoption of the re-usable version of plastic. We should move away from the use of single-use plastics that form the bulk of plastic waste polluting oceans. This implies the utilization of reusable shopping bags, and water bottles to decrease the per capita use of plastic bags in the world which currently stands at 45kg compared to 3kg in the late 1980s. Smokers should also resolve to regular use of ashtrays to reduce the amounts of cigarette butts dropped on the streets, that are eventually swept away by rainwater into rivers and oceans. In areas with high populations of smokers, governments should consider implementing public smoking bans to enforce control and ensure cigarette butts are collected at designated smoking areas and in ashtrays to reduce the negative effects they have on the environment.
Plastic recycling should be increased and advanced recycling techniques adopted to avoid further pollution. Recycling plastics relies on the collection of plastics which also provides employment opportunities for plastic waste collectors. Recycling also ensures there’s no introduction of “new plastic” in the environment and the consequent management towards the reduction of plastic use. Social emphasis on recycling should also be supported by people through volunteering to participate in beach and river clean-up programs and delivering the plastic waste collected to recycling plants.
We should also consider moving from the use of fossil fuels for energy because they pose a great risk to the ocean if contamination and pollution spill into the seawater. Oil drills in the high waters are exposed to risky accidents that have long detrimental effects on the ocean. Oil tankers in the water also end up spilling into the ocean in case of accidents leaving the same devastating consequences. (Nellemann, Hain & Alder, 43). Utilizing more wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear energy will go a long way toward protecting oceans from contamination.
Consumers should also reduce the utilization of beauty and wash products that contain plastic microbeads. This entails the reduced use of face scrubs and body wash which are among the most commonly used products containing plastic particles of less than one millimeter in diameter (Duquette et.al, 66). This should correlate with producer responsibility policies that force producers of plastic products to sign liability agreements that elaborate on detailed techniques they will use in handling the plastic, collecting used plastic and recycling. Governments should also consider implementing increased taxation on plastic production and introducing plastic-related fees to discourage manufacturers from the use of plastic and also raise sufficient revenues to support government environmental sustainability programs that deal with plastic waste management. Fines for littering the environment with plastic materials should also be implemented. In large populations and growing economies such as China, the government can consider imposing bans on the use of plastic bags to control the number of plastic bags getting to seas and oceans.
Countries should also come together and support the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) initiative for Zero-Vision for Oceanic Plastic. Such support should be through the implementation of common international environmental support agreements by coming together to develop common plans and goals for the reduction of plastic waste in the ocean. Mapping of the critical areas that need more emphasis such as China and the Gulf of Mexico should be dealt with by the respective countries sharing the polluted water bodies.
I believe that economic and environmental-based considerations towards the reduction of trash in seas and oceans are the major challenges limiting effective waste management. Implementing preventative measures may carry a ripple effect within an economy such as loss of employment and from closing down of factories manufacturing plastic products. However, the distribution of these costs and benefits is likely to be distributed unevenly within global environmental support organizations such as UNEP. This is essential because, for instance, people living in developing countries are likely to suffer much more than the rest of the world due to many developing countries still in the growth phases of their economies, and the majority of their citizens might not afford alternatives to non-biodegradable plastic which is more expensive. Oil companies from developed countries should also pay hefty fines and taxes due to the negative effects while on their overseas oil exploits. The oil spill on the Nigerian coast is still affecting the local shipping and fishing industries whereas Shell, the company responsible, continues to operate posing more threats to the environment. The costs and benefits give a generalized figure and do not break down the figures obtained into individual self-determination to end the irresponsible use of plastic and trash getting into the ocean. This implies that efforts to protect oceans from trash will have to social responsibility if they are to make a significant impact on time.