“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is proof of the extent of pollution in our oceans. It is a vortex of debris that covers an estimated surface of 1.6 million square kilometers. How big is that? Twice the size of Texas. With up to 2 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year, experts estimate that 1.8 trillion plastic pieces are floating within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Consequently, marine life in this area is exposed to various risks such as plastic ingestion, malnutrition, exposure to toxic chemicals, and plastic entanglement. As plastic enters the marine food web, the human food chain becomes vulnerable as well. But ocean benefits to humans go beyond the food chain. Needless to say, placing our seas in peril also endangers the human race.
When our very existence depends on the state of our waters, isn’t it time that we treat our oceans better?
Washed Ashore: How Pollution in Oceans and Seas Find Its Way Back
Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is made of water. However, humans seem to be oblivious to the role of the seas in our lives. So much so that most of us view pollution in oceans and seas as somebody else’s problem. Now, years into our apparent disregard of our waters, pollution in oceans and seas is finding its way back to the shore in ways that are both startling and mind-boggling.
- Microplastics ingested by marine life can end up in the human body. While plastic is non-biodegradable, it can be broken into smaller pieces. These pieces can pass through the bloodstream and settle into the organs of marine species. Various species of marine life harvested for human consumption have been detected to have microplastics.
- Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), commonly known as “red tide,” occurs when simple plants grow uncontrollably in the sea. The algal bloom produces toxins that harm fish and crustaceans such as microcystins and domoic acid. Algal blooms can be triggered by chemical wastes and runoffs from agriculture, human waste seepage from waterways, and thermal pollution from power plants.
- Pollution in oceans and seas contributes to climate change. Because our oceans are strewn with trash and plastic, their capacity to take in carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere is decreased. While 15% floats on the sea surface and another 15% is suspended in water columns, 70% of plastic pollution in oceans and seas settle at the bottom.
Healing Our Seas through Innovation and Technology
Reversing the damage caused by pollution in oceans and seas may require a lot of resources. However, if the world takes bold steps now, we may be able to hasten the recovery of our waters. Here are some of the bold companies and industries healing our seas through innovation and technology:
- Loliware is an edible bioplastic startup with a mission. Founders Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker envision a future where plastic straws will be replaced by 100% plant-based, hyper-compostable, and marine-degradable straws.
- CalWave Power Technologies harnesses the power of the ocean by developing a wave energy converter in the form of synthetic seafloor. As an alternative source of energy, CalWave has the capacity to power 50 million homes.
- The Ocean Cleanup system is cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by using a 600-meter-long floater. It sits at the water’s surface and has a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below. With funding of $2,154,282 from 160 countries, the Ocean Cleanup is a global effort to clean up the pollution in oceans and seas.
- Clear Blue Sea taps the potentials of robotics in ocean cleanup efforts—for instance, through FRED (Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris), which is deployed to collect trash and sea debris. FRED is a solar-powered catamaran that moves slowly at 2 knots while a conveyor belt collects floating plastics. Collected plastics are then offloaded to a mother ship and brought to recycling facilities.
- Waste Management Inc. partnered with Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant for a pilot co-digestion project that uses an advanced process called anaerobic digestion (AD) for New York City’s wastewater treatment process. By eating away the organics in the sludge, the anaerobic bacteria generates methane gas. That gas can then be tapped as a source of energy.
Ocean Benefits to Humans: Beyond the Food Chain
Water is life. Like all other species, we humans depend on our seas for air, water, food, medicine, recreation, transportation, and economy. Regrettably, the ocean benefits to humans have been overshadowed with our palpable indifference to our seas. We have pillaged our waters at an alarming rate, and we have dumped our wastes in waterways without concern.
Thus, as pollution in oceans and seas are finding its way back to the shore, we are reminded that we are here as stewards to our blue planet.
Want more? For more good reads on Bold Business’ series on the Blue Economy, click on our recent story on Maritime Trade. You can also read up on these stories on Deep Seabed Mining, Water Desalination and Aquaculture Systems, and Aquaculture Sustainability in Meeting Global Demand for Food.