Unraveling the Harmful Effects of Trash in the Ocean

The trash in the ocean affects the living of plants, animals, and other organisms that live in the saltwater of the sea or ocean, or the salty water of coastal estuaries, which are known as marine life, sea life, or ocean life.

Oceans cover over 71% of the planet’s surface area and supply over 90% of the world’s living space. A wide range of organisms inhabits them. These species can range in size from the tiniest single-celled plankton to the blue whale, the world’s largest animal. Fish, which live entirely in water, were the first vertebrates to appear.

Aquatic Life

Trash in the ocean affecting aquatic life
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Moreover, 200,000 marine species have been identified, with another two million yet to be discovered. Marine organisms range in size from the tiny, such as phytoplankton, which can be as little as 0.02 micrometers, to massive cetaceans, such as the blue whale, which can reach a length of 33 meters (108 feet).

Marine microorganisms, comprising protists, bacteria, and their associated viruses, have been estimated to make up 70 percent to 90 percent of total marine biomass, depending on the source. Marine biology and biological oceanography are both scientific fields that study marine life. Marine is derived from the Latin mare, which means “sea” or “ocean.”

Fish were the first vertebrates to appear, as they are the only vertebrates that live entirely in water. Some of these evolved into amphibians, animals that spend part of their life in the water and part on land. Other fish evolved into land mammals, such as seals, dolphins, sea turtles, and whales, and then returned to the sea as seals, dolphins, or whales.

Kelp and other algae are aquatic plant forms that provide the foundation for some underwater habitats. Plankton, particularly phytoplankton, which are major primary producers, comprise the broad foundation of the ocean food chain, so ocean conservancy is essential.

Ocean Trash

Transh in the ocean
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Hundreds of billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants are dumped into the ocean yearly. National Geographic estimates that the sea contains 5.25 trillion bits of plastic trash. Two hundred sixty-nine thousand tons of that mass float on the top, while the deep water is littered with four billion plastic microfibers every square kilometer.

Some of the debris is swept in by the waves and tides and ends on our beaches. Some trash sinks, while others are mistaken for food by marine animals and accumulate in ocean gyres. Other causes of pollution that harm the ocean’s health include oil spills and the accumulation of many dispersed sources like fertilizer from our yards.

Garbage Patch

Trash in the ocean
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garbage patch is a gyre of marine debris particles created by ocean currents and rising human plastic pollution. These human-caused plastic and other trash accumulations harm marine lives, pollute the oceans with hazardous compounds, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Marine debris becomes mobile once it enters the ocean. The wind carries Flotsam or follows the flow of ocean currents, frequently settling in the heart of oceanic gyres where currents are weakest. Garbage patches quickly expand due to significant plastic pollution caused by mismanagement in human garbage collection systems.

Factors Leading To Ocean Trash

Human activities around beaches and far inland are responsible for most contaminants that end up in the ocean. Septic tanks, marine debris, cars, farms, animal ranches, and timber harvesting regions are potential pollution sources. There are many sources through which the ocean is getting polluted.

1. Marine Debris

Trash in ocean
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Marine debris is a persistent pollution issue affecting the entire ocean and the Great Lakes. Marine trash in the sea, ranging from tiny microplastics smaller than 5 mm to derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels, pollutes our oceans and streams. Hundreds of marine organisms have been harmed or killed by marine debris and other forms of plastic pollution. They can injure or kill an animal if consumed or entangled in it and threaten the habitats they rely on. Marine debris and other trash plastics can also jeopardize navigational safety and constitute a health risk to humans.

The majority of marine debris and plastic enters or originates from land and enters the ocean and Great Lakes due to littering, inadequate waste management practices, stormwater discharge, and catastrophic natural disasters like tsunamis and storms.

2. Nonpoint Source Pollution

It refers to the pollution that occurs not from a particular point or action but because of natural phenomena. Pollution from nonpoint sources arises from a range of places and sources. As a result, runoff occurs when rain or snow transports pollutants from the ground to the sea.

For example, after a severe rainstorm, water rushes off the roadways and into the ocean, carrying any oil left on the streets from passing cars or fertilizers, pesticides, petroleum, or any other forms of soil contaminants, increasing the trash in the ocean.

3. Industrial Discharge

Another prominent type of trash is toxic chemicals directly thrown into the oceans, resulting in ocean pollution and industrial and agricultural waste.

Toxic liquids dumped and the trash have two effects: first, they endanger marine mammals, and second, they raise the water’s temperature, a phenomenon known as thermal pollution, because the temperature of these liquids is relatively high. Animals and plants that are unable to adapt to greater temperatures will eventually die.

4. Oil Spills

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Ships are a significant water pollution source, mainly when crude oil spills occur. It is highly harmful to marine life, frequently smothering them to death once entrapped. Crude oil stays in the ocean for years and is tough to clean.

5. Sewage

Sewage or contaminating substances such as minerals and compounds from mining camps enter directly into the ocean through sewage, rivers, or drainages.

The release of additional chemical fertilizers into the ocean’s environment causes oxygen levels to drop, plant life to degrade, and the quality of the seawater to deteriorate dramatically. As a result, all strata of marine life, including plants and animals, are severely harmed because of this trash.

6. Littering And Plastic Debris

Trash in the ocean
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Significant contributions to amassing ocean debris include atmospheric pollution, plastic pollution, or things transported by the wind to the ocean. Plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, for example, float in the water and do not degrade.

These particles can range from natural materials such as dust and sand to man-made materials like garbage and rubbish. Most waste, mainly plastic cannot degrade and floats in the ocean current for years.

Animals can become entangled in ocean debris or mistake it for food, leading to their death over time. Turtles, dolphins, fish, sharks, crabs, marine birds, and crocodiles are among the most common victims of plastic trash.

Furthermore, carbon dioxide and climate change significantly impact ocean temperature, primarily affecting ocean ecosystems and fish communities.

7. Ocean Mining

trash in the ocean
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Deep-sea ocean mining pollutes and disrupts the ecosystem at the deepest levels of the ocean. Drilling minerals like cobalt, zinc, silver, gold, and copper results in toxic sulfide deposits deep beneath the ocean’s surface.

It is believed that deep-sea mining damages the ocean’s lowest levels and increases the region’s toxicity. This long-term deterioration also results in leaks, corrosion, and oil spills, all of which wreak havoc on the region’s ecosystem.

Garbage Patches In The World

Five gyres substantially impact the ocean: the North Atlantic Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, the South Pacific Gyre, and the Indian Ocean Gyre. The big five assist in the operation of the oceanic conveyor belt, which aids in the circulation of ocean waters throughout the world. While they cycle ocean waters, they also collect marine debris, which we discharge in coastal areas.

The South Atlantic Gyre

In the South Atlantic Ocean, the South Atlantic Gyre is subtropical. Northwesterly (or southeastward-flowing) winds drive eastward-flowing currents in the southern part of the gyre, which is difficult to differentiate from the northern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. It collects large volumes of floating waste as a garbage patch, similar to other marine gyres.

The North Pacific Gyre

The North Pacific Gyre (NPG) or North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) is one of the five principal oceanic gyres found in the northern Pacific Ocean. Most of the North Pacific Ocean is covered by this gyre. The North Pacific Current to the north, the California Current to the east, the North Equatorial Current to the south, and the Kuroshio Current to the west make up the gyre, which has a clockwise circular pattern.

trash in the ocean
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an extraordinarily dense concentration of human-created marine garbage, is located there and is twice the size of Texas. It is located between Hawaii and California in the Pacific Ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is also the most well-known one. While some regions of the patch have more plastic debris than others, microplastics make up most of the material.

The debris varies in size, ranging from massive abandoned fishing nets to tiny microplastics (plastic fragments smaller than 5mm). As a result, it is possible to cruise over parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with little to no garbage and plastic.

The South Pacific Gyre

The Equator to the north, Australia to the west, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to the south, and South America to the east define the Southern Pacific Gyre, part of the Earth’s system of rotating ocean currents.

Like Earth’s other four gyres, the South Pacific garbage patch has an area with high quantities of pelagic plastic waste, chemical waste, and other debris.

The Indian Ocean Gyre

The Indian Ocean gyre is one of five major oceanic gyres, vast systems of rotating ocean currents that collectively form the backbone of the global conveyor belt. It is located in the Indian Ocean. The South Equatorial Current and the West Australian Current are the two significant currents that make up the Indian Ocean gyre.

Due to these moderate, dry winds, the Winter Monsoon season in the Indian Ocean region is the dry season for most of Southern Asia. The Indian Ocean currents, which make up the Indian Ocean gyre, are directly affected by this periodic wind cycle, triggering reversal and causing trash in oceans.

Effects Of Trash in Oceans

The unbelievable mass of gyres like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch shows ocean plastic pollution control is a real and pressing need. The pollution of aquatic bodies has many consequences on marine and human life. Among these, plastic waste significantly impacts the food chain and climate change. The increase of corruption in the ocean has many dangerous consequences.

Impact On Marine Animals

Trash in the ocean
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Ocean pollution kills a lot of seas, oceans, and other marine animals. For example, Oil spills will entrap and suffocate them by permeating their gills. Seabirds may be unable to fly or feed their young if oil seeps into their feathers. Animals not killed by crude oil may develop cancer, modify their behavior, and lose their ability to reproduce.

Small trash in oceans, like small plastic trash, is also mistaken for food by marine animals, and plastic bags and discarded fishing nets entangle or choke them. Dolphins, fish, sharks, turtles, seagulls, and crabs are a few among the many marine animals most at risk from plastic garbage and plastic particles in the ocean. They might get caught in them or swallow small pieces of plastic by mistake.

Impact On Coral Reefs

trash in the ocean
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The oil spill hovers on the water’s surface, blocking sunlight from reaching marine plants on the ocean floor and interfering with photosynthesis. Long-term effects on marine lives include skin irritation, eye discomfort, and liver and lung disorders.

Depletion Of Oxygen

The majority of ocean trash does not decompose and disintegrate and remains in the ocean for years. As it degrades, it consumes oxygen, and as a result, oxygen levels are depleted. When oxygen levels drop, marine species such as whales, turtles, sharks, dolphins, and penguins have a more challenging time surviving for lengthy periods.

Oxygen depletion is also caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in seawater. When a large ocean area loses a lot of oxygen, it’s called a “dead zone” – a place with no marine life.

Effect On Food Chain

Chemicals used in industry and agriculture wash into rivers and are transferred into the oceans from there. These compounds do not dissolve and sink to the ocean’s bottom. Small animals take these poisons, ultimately consumed by more giant creatures, affecting the entire food chain.

Impact On Humans

Humans feed animals from the damaged food web and chain, which influences their health because chemicals from these polluted animals are deposited in human tissues, potentially leading to cancer, congenital disabilities, or long-term health problems.

Prevention Of Trash And Protection Of Aquatic Life

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), plastic marine trash, particularly it’s capacity to transport dangerous compounds, is one of the most pressing environmental challenges, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The Leaders ‘ Declaration addressed the risks of microplastics at the 2015 G7 conference in Bavaria, Germany.

Marine Pollution Bulletin deals with the efficient use of marine resources available in seas, oceans, and other large water bodies. It also deals with marine pollution and works towards reducing it.

International Level

Plastic marine trash is one of the most pressing environmental challenges, particularly capable of transporting dangerous compounds.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The leaders ‘ Declaration addressed the risks of microplastics at the 2015 G7 conference in Bavaria, Germany.

Legal attempts have been made to combat marine pollution and control plastic waste at the international and national levels. The London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and Other Matter (or the London Convention) and the 1978 Protocol to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (or the London Protocol) are the most important (MARPOL).

However, compliance is still low due to a lack of financial resources to implement these rules. To combat ocean plastic waste and ocean plastic pollution, existing international legally enforceable mechanisms should be investigated further.

Trash in the ocean
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Indian Government

India has a vast marine ecology and biodiversity that supports many species, and the coastal population relies on the resources provided by this marine ecosystem. The importance of preventing trash and plastic waste build-up in the ocean and conserving this ecosystem has been recognized around the world.

UNCLOS 1982 mandates that the Coastal States preserve and protect the maritime environment and associated resources.

The Indian Maritime Zones Act of 1976 empowers the government to take action to safeguard the marine environment.

The Indian Coast Guard is responsible for preserving and protecting the marine environment and regulating marine debris, according to the Coast Guard Act of 1978.

The Indian Coast Guard was designated as the Central Coordinating Authority for oil-spill response in India’s Maritime Zones in 1986, and Coast Guard officials were given authority to take appropriate actions against polluters under the Merchant Shipping Act 1958.

The Government of India adopted the National Oil-spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOSDCP) in 1993, allocating functional responsibilities for oil-spill response in India’s Maritime Zones to several ministries and departments.

Aligning Luxury Handcraft And Sustainability: Minimizing Ocean Trash Impact

Guillaume Drew, the Founder and CEO of Or & Zon, explains how industry practices can contribute to ocean trash and how we can minimize our environmental impact:

“First, it’s about eliminating waste at its source. We work with independent artisans [around the world], emphasizing the use of locally sourced and recycled materials wherever possible.

This manual, attentive craft [not only] reduces waste but also mitigates the demand for new, potentially environmentally damaging resources.

Second, it’s direct sourcing and efficient logistics. By partnering directly with artisans, we bypass multiple middlemen, reducing unnecessary shipping and packaging that often ends up as ocean trash.

We’re also exploring carbon-neutral shipping options to lessen our footprint even further.

Third, we believe in the power of digital platforms as an effective tool against waste.

As an e-commerce business, we utilize digital technology to optimize our stock, aiming for efficiency and reducing overproduction, which [in turn] minimally impacts the environment.

Finally, we focus on long-lasting and high-quality products, which counters the culture of disposability. By creating products with longevity, we can ensure they do not end up as waste prematurely.”

Guillaume Drew
Guillaume Drew

Preventing Trash In The Ocean On A Local Level

1. Reduce Plastic Pollution

Plastic garbage accounts for the majority of ocean pollution. Approximately 10% of the 260 million tons of plastic produced yearly end up in the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, composed of every form of plastic waste, from discarded fishing gear to plastic bottles, is evidence of this. To ensure that plastics and other recyclable items do not wind up in the sea, they must be appropriately disposed of, especially the smaller pieces of plastic. Dispose of rubbish in a safe receptacle or take it home with you when visiting outdoor areas such as beaches and parks would help reduce the ocean’s trash.

2. Reuse

Trash in the Ocean
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It would take around 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade fully. Meanwhile, it would remain submerged in the ocean, emitting chemicals that would kill marine life. Plastic or Styrofoam are used to make non-reusable bottles and flatware. These materials take hundreds or thousands of years to develop, so reusing them would be a great option.

3. Recycle

trash in the ocean
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As the population grows, the amount of waste created will increase dramatically, and finding dumping areas becomes increasingly difficult. Hence, as a result, many scraps end up on the ocean floor. These wastes discharged into the water last a long time and harm marine life.

4. Reduce The Use Of Chemical Fertilizers

Chemical fertilizer use must be managed and regulated to avoid this pollution of the aquatic environment. Excessive use of chemical fertilizers harms the soil, neighboring water bodies, and, eventually, the ocean. These runoffs are highly poisonous and can easily harm marine life.

5. Organizing Cleanups to Reduce Trash in the Ocean

Trash in the ocean
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Plenty of trash cans should be placed at the beaches. If someone is caught littering, they must be stopped immediately, and rigorous rules and regulations must be followed at all times. Organizing a social distancing cleaning campaign at the beach to pick up small and large debris would prevent the trash from entering the ocean and reduce ocean plastics.

It would reduce the pollution and save them from the potential risk of getting caught in pieces of particles or swallowing smaller particles of them as food and killing them.

Empowering Change: The Impact of Ocean Trash Education on Community Behavior

Eric Eng, a College Admission Expert and the Founder and CEO of AdmissionSight delivers insights into how education can drive ocean trash awareness and behavior change through their expertise:

“Education is a powerful tool to drive ocean trash awareness and induce behavior change. When I’ve worked with local communities, we’ve engaged professionals with the know-how to communicate the gravity of the issue effectively.

Tools like interactive workshops, educational games, and hands-on beach cleanup activities have proven highly effective. These methods raise awareness and foster a sense of responsibility among residents.

They begin to understand how their [own] actions contribute to the problem and, more importantly, how they can be part of the solution.

When done right, education can inspire a collective change in behavior and attitude, ultimately leading to a cleaner, healthier ocean.”

Eric Eng
Eric Eng

All in all, to reduce microplastic waste from pellets, synthetic textiles, and tires, governments, research institutions, and industry must collaborate to redesign products and rethink their use and disposal. People need to be educated about the disadvantages of improper disposal of plastics and other objects and their impact on aquatic life.

Millions of fish and sea turtles lose their life because of this trash in the ocean, i.e., plastic and other floating debris on the sea surface. Because oceans are home to a diverse range of marine animals and plants, everyone must keep them clean so that marine species can survive for extended periods, and conducting International Coastal cleanup is the best way to do it.

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

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