Many is more powerful than one when working to end pollution

Victoria Stromberg – Anchor Contributor

If everyone was to start doing small things every day to improve the environment, the world would be a healthier place. There is a growing problem with pollution in the environment and more specifically, oceans. But how big is this problem?

The effects that plastic pollution alone has had on ecosystems and food chains in the ocean is astronomical. Seabirds across the globe are being discovered with plastic in their digestive systems, as they mistake the plastic for food on the ocean’s surface. Plastic has been found the digestive tract of not just birds, but in animals ranging from whales to sea turtles and even small crustaceans. Filter feeding animals such as Baleen whales, that use their large mouths to sift through plankton and krill, ingest plastic by mistake as well. In serious cases, ingestion of plastic can kill these animals.

According to an environmental research letter by Albert A Koelmans, 99.8 percent of plastic that has landed in the oceans since the 1950s has settled below the surface of the ocean. Since then it has accumulated to 8.5 million tons annually––that is a lot of plastic to be hanging out on the ocean floor.

This is unsettling.

Plastic, while being a main contributor, is not the only issue that is reducing populations and damaging marine life. Another problem is fishing nets being abandoned in the sea causing animals such as birds, sea turtles and even whales to get caught in them while they are swimming.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

According to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an estimated 640,000 metric tons of fishing gear are left in the oceans each year. This includes 25,000 nets that are recorded lost or discarded every year.

Although there are non-profit organizations and businesses out there responsible for working to remove debris in the ocean, they can not fulfill this alone. There are things that everyone can do at home to reduce the amount of plastic build-up in not only the ocean, but all ecosystems both land and sea. These underlying factors of pollution can all be reduced if there was a focus on worldwide sustainability.

As for what the average person can do from their own home, there are countless things that people do throughout their day that they don’t even think about.

The easiest things to do to preserve the environment are as follows: Reduce, reuse, recycle! Reduce your intake of plastic, get a reusable water bottle so there is never a need to buy copious amounts of plastic bottles. When shopping at the market, think about it, ask yourself if the supermarket has paper bags rather than plastic? If so, jackpot. The less plastic we use, the less plastic that mistakenly ends up where it does not belong. If you live near the coast, like us Rhode Islanders, an important way to contribute is to go to local beach cleanups, or donate to these groups and organizations. As far as fishing gear goes, clean up after yourself. The most obvious solution is do not discard fishing gear and nets into the ocean when they are no longer used. Discard them the proper way, by finding local places near you that work to recycle fishing nets, or distribute them to places that do. A little can go a long way.