While the huge oil spills make the headlines, there is much more to marine pollution. Trash litters coastlines around the world. Man-made pollutants (like pesticides and pharmaceuticals) are entering the global food chain. There are “garbage patches” comprised of millions of pounds of floating debris in the Pacific Ocean, harming marine life and disrupting food chains.
Our precious water resources need protection.
The good news is that everyone can help stop marine pollution, even landlocked residents, because—get this—80% of the problem originates on land! Some of the biggest causes of marine pollution include trash dumping, pesticide runoff and improper waste disposal.
Making individual changes at home can lead to big solutions. Here’s a few things you can do:
Use that trashcan
Too many people use public areas as dumping grounds for their trash. And what happens to the litter tossed onto sidewalks, parks and streets? It gets washed into storm drains and our local waters by the rain. Can’t find a can? Take the trash home with you, or forgo buying something.
Then reduce your trash
Of course, the ideal solution is to create less trash in the first place. Recycle, compost, reuse. Switch from plastics to reusable natural materials like cloth shopping bags and aluminum water bottles—they mean less trash junking up our home. 90% of floating ocean trash is non-biodegradable plastic. Plastics absorb toxic chemicals and become ingested by marine life, either killing the animals or entering our food chain.
Remember: Drains are not for dumping
Never pour used motor oil or other hazardous liquids down a sewer or storm drain where they eventually wash into rivers and oceans. You can recycle used motor oil with your nearby gas station or local recycling facilities. Don’t pour household cleaners, paints or other liquid waste down the drain at home. They are considered hazardous household waste and should be disposed of properly. Read my post on how to do that.
Mark storm drains
Some people just don’t make the connection that storm drains lead to local bodies of water. That’s why groups across the country affix signage such as this one below to neighborhood storm drains. If there’s not an active program already in your town, you can do it yourself with a group of friends. (This makes a great lesson and project for homeschoolers and other students.) Get tips on how to start a storm marking program from the EPA website.
Use organic fertilizers
The runoff of fertilizers from lawns and farms depletes the oxygen in our waters and suffocates marine life. Technically, it’s a process called eutrophication, and it’s the reason for the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, which is about the size of New Jersey. Fall is the best time to transition your lawn to organic care like aeration, composting and slow-release fertilizers. Find safe brands of fertilizer and other details here.
Marine pollution is of particular interest to me because I worked eight years for a local environmental organization, Save The Bay. Save The Bay works toward protecting and restoring Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, while inspiring residents toward environmental stewardship. Their ongoing projects include storm drain marking, salt marsh restoration and dam removal, plus a host of educational marine science courses for students in the classroom or on the water.