Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is a huge problem. Plastic makes up the majority of all trash floating in the ocean, with 46,000 pieces per square mile, according to TakePart. Plastic does not biodegrade but photodegrades with sunlight and breaks down into smaller pieces. Those smaller pieces are consumed by marine life or washed up on beaches.
There are great, big floating masses of plastic debris within the oceans; more than 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds die every year from eating or becoming entangled in plastic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies in the North Pacific Gyre off the California coast. The plastic pieces that make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–which is around twice the size of Texas–outnumber marine life by six to one.
Even the Arctic Ocean has plastic debris: USA Today recently reported that the Arctic Ocean may have “trillions of small pieces of plastic and other synthetic trash.” The plastic in the Arctic Ocean is being released “into the world’s oceans as global warming melts the polar cap.” It is even bigger than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as the concentration of plastic debris floating around in the Arctic is 1,000 times greater.
Created more than 20 years ago to educate divers about ocean issues, Project AWARE now maps ocean pollution. Three years ago on World Oceans Day, June 8, 2011, Project AWARE launched the Dive Against Debris program, in which volunteer scuba divers removed garbage they found underwater. The divers also reported on what they found, which has led to the creation of an interactive map of the world’s ocean garbage. The map visualizes more than 400,000 debris items reported. The biggest source of debris reported by Project AWARE divers is plastic, which made up almost 70 of the garbage found. The types of plastic discovered by the divers include single-use plastics thrown away daily, such as bottles and bags.
Looking at some of the places reported on by Project AWARE divers in California shows that plastic is the most common types of debris reported:
- Monterey: 11 total pieces of debris (30 pounds estimated); six plastic
- Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach: 55 total pieces of debris (40 pounds estimated); 38 Plastic
- Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach: 134 total pieces of debris (350 pounds, estimated); 58 plastic
- La Jolla Shores: 23 total pieces of debris (3 pounds, estimated); 15 plastic
- Marine Room, La Jolla: One piece of debris; one plastic
- Tourmaline Beach/Surfing Park: 285 total pieces of debris (300 pounds, measured); 146 plastic
- Corona Del Mar State Beach: 59 total pieces of debris (200 pounds estimated); 26 plastic
- Belmont Pier East: 11 total pieces of debris (1 pound estimated); 10 plastic
- Belmont Pier East: 21 total pieces of debris (4 pounds estimated); 20 plastic
- Belmont Pier East: 237 total pieces of debris (37 pounds estimated); 192 plastic
- Long Beach Belmont Pier: 817 total pieces of debris (50 pounds estimated); 751 plastic
The average American will throw away about 185 pounds of plastic each year, TakePart estimates. An estimated 50 percent of plastic waste is only used once before being thrown away. Cleaning up plastic pollution is costly: According to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analysis of 95 California communities, the annual costs for preventing litter from becoming pollution is $428 million a year.
Image credit: Kevin Krejci