For Earth Day, Think of the Ocean

During the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup volunteers collected more than NINE MILLION POUNDS of trash (9,184,427) along 20,000 miles of coastlines. While at first this might sound like a good news, it’s also very sad that it’s even possible to collect that much trash from the ocean.

For this Earth Day and every day, we need to make sure to care more for the ocean and all the lives that call it home. Whether trash is left on the beach or the ocean coughs it up, seeing it there is at least an opportunity to pick it up and get it out of circulation before it does more damage.

According to data recently released by the Ocean Conservancy, within the nine million pounds of trash collected, the top ten items found were cigarette butts, plastic caps or lids, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers or containers, plastic utensils, glass bottles, straws or stirrers, cans, and paper bags. Most of these things (including cigarette butts) are not biodegradable. Sea life and birds often choke on or become entangled in plastic trash. One of the most heartbreaking pictures I’ve seen was of a bird cut open after it died. The bird’s body was completely filled with little plastic pieces.

A few more things Ocean Conservancy volunteers found:

  • Enough food packaging (940,277 pieces) to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years.
  • Enough light bulbs (24,384 bulbs) to replace every light on the Eiffel Tower.
  • Enough beverage cans and glass beverage containers that, if recycled, would net $45,489.15.
  • Enough balloons (93,913) to provide one to every person expected to attend the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.

In the past 26 years of cleanups, volunteers have found:

  • Fifty-five million cigarettes butts, which if stacked vertically, would be as tall as 3,613 Empire State Buildings.
  • Enough glass and plastic bottles to provide every resident of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia a cold beverage on a hot summer day.
  • Enough appliances (125,156) to fill 37,434 single-axle dump trucks.
  • More than 870 thousand (870,935) diapers – enough to put one on every child born in the UK last year.
  • Enough plastic cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons to host a picnic for 2.15 million people.

While walking the beach, I’ve been surprised not only by the amount of deflated balloons to be found, but also those curly ribbons that are usually tied around presents. People must have lots of celebrations at the beach, but why not try celebrating the Earth and ocean by making sure not to leave those things behind? It’s easy to imagine the ribbons and balloons wreaking havoc with sea life and birds. I’ve also found lighters, sneakers (always just one sneaker at a time), a tire, plastic fishing nets, and of course, lots of little plastic pieces. Unfortunately, no messages in bottles. The messages are instead spread out all over the beach.

What are some strange things you’ve found while walking on the beach?

Ocean Conservancy Home Page
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans
Project Kaisei: Capturing the Plastic Vortex

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20 thoughts on “For Earth Day, Think of the Ocean

  1. It is heartbreaking. Over the years, I’ve heard ridiculous comments like, “The ocean will clean itself.” One day during ‘beach clean up’, I assigned a small pond by the bike path, I worked alone and filled twelve 20 gallon bags with trash. Thank you for the wake up call…

    • It’s true that the ocean can’t clean itself when there’s plastic in it. It tries to break it down but then we’re left with the tinier pieces of plastic.

  2. It is quite heartbreaking when you see all that rubbish. I have a thing (embarrassing as it may be) for collecting all those bits of fishing line people leave around on jetties. Surprisingly often they have lead sinkers and rusty hooks attached, in areas where people walk with bare feet, and I really really hate seeing sea birds with amputated feet where they have been caught in the lines. There is a seal at our zoo which has terrible scarring around his neck from fishing line too.
    The best things I have found on beaches are natural – I found a nautilus shell a couple of years ago – it is beautiful. 🙂

    • That’s so sad. I wish we never found things like that on the beach. The natural things are definitely the best and only things that should be there.

  3. The sea is never far from my thoughts. I am fortunate to live minutes from The Mediterranean and spend quite a bit of time at one beach or another. Our beaches are kept clean and people here are careful not to leave anything behind. However, there is more effort in August and the massive amounts of tourists who might not be as cautious. Thank you for reminding us all of the importance of our beaches and the creatures who live there.

    • I’m glad to hear the beaches are kept clean there. Even though the trash is sad to see, it’s an opportunity to pick it up and get rid of it since sometimes the ocean brings the trash ashore. If enough of us care enough, we can get it out of circulation. Thank you for dropping by and for caring.

  4. Thanks for including The Cause Blog’s post! I will include your post on mine as well – this is great!

  5. This is heartbreaking news 😦 for ocean and nature lovers, and your post did open many eyes to the fast deteriorating state of our many seas. Thanks Sheila, I join hands with you regarding this concern.

  6. Great post, Sheila. I’ve never understood why people leave their trash everywhere. If they were capable of hauling it ‘there’ then they’re capable of hauling ‘out’. I wonder if the mentality that litters everywhere is the same as that of the Oil companies?

    • I never understood it either and I don’t think I’ll ever figure out the oil company mentality. I just wish we didn’t need the oil, but hopefully that will change.

  7. Wonderful, informative post, Sheila…we are a scout family and have learned the same for trails…”leave no trail behind.” This also parallels with the beach. It’s sad when we think of those who don’t care about our environment..

  8. I’ve never understood what’s so hard about depositing one’s trash in a trash bin. One time, we witnessed a family pack up their beach belongings for the day and head out, leaving their sandwich baggies, soda cans, and empty chip bags behind. Really? You can’t dump those in the garbage? It takes so little effort.

    Thanks for an eye-opening post.

    • That’s pretty sad. I don’t think I’ve ever caught anyone in the act like that, but I’ve definitely seen the aftereffects. I think a lot of times people think whatever they do doesn’t make a difference, but it does. Thank you for visiting!

  9. This is so sad…I don’t live near a beach but near woods and people dump all sorts of things there too. Just in a little path in the woods near my home I saw a kitchen sink, a saucer Star Choice, a mattress, tires, clapboard siding…
    Many people just don’t bother…

  10. Pingback: World Oceans Day | Sheila Hurst

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