Pollution of all sorts, from chemical to plastic, is one of the major threats to marine life, from plankton to whales. Almost every individual adds to the ever-increasing pollution of the seas. However, this means that everybody can help reduce it. Small changes in your lifestyle directly reduce the amount of pollutants reaching the ocean.
In the Home
Pollutants that end up in the oceans include everything you pour down the drain and flush down the toilet. Nutrients from detergents and, unavoidably, sewage contribute to lethal algal blooms. Many common household cleaning chemicals are, in fact, extremely toxic. To reduce all this pollution coming from your home, start using smaller amounts of everyday household chemicals and when possible choose a gentler, biodegradable alternative, such as vinegar sprays. Instead of using highly toxic items such as drain cleaner, the EPA recommends trying other ways to clear clogs, such as a plunger. Don’t flush other toxic chemicals, such as paint thinner, antifreeze, herbicide or paint, which are considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of appropriately. Unused medicines should be returned to the pharmacy and not flushed down the toilet.
In the Garden
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, homeowners use, acre for acre, many more chemicals than non-organic commercial farmers. These too end up in the water ways and eventually the ocean. Fertilizers also cause algal blooms, and pesticides are simply poisonous. The obvious step here is to garden organically, which costs less money and supports local wildlife.
Marine pollution does not just consist of chemicals that have been poured down the drain or are seeping through the soil into groundwater. Plastic pollution is an enormous problem, directly killing approximately 100,000 marine mammals each year. Recycling all plastics or, preferably, not using them in the first place will help. If you want to go a step further, consider participating in or organizing a beach clean-up. Always place garbage, plastic or otherwise, in appropriate receptacles.
Less obviously, individuals are adding to marine pollution in other ways. Acid rain, much of which falls on or ends up in the oceans, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Reduce your carbon footprint, for example, by driving less, to decrease marine and air pollution. Supporting or choosing green energy in your area also helps.
Finally, there is a completely different sort of pollution that is threatening marine wildlife, notably whales and dolphins. As these animals use sound to communicate, navigate and locate food, noise pollution can be immensely disruptive and has been linked to mass strandings in recent years. The main sources of this pollution include shipping, naval activities and fossil fuel exploration and drilling. Aside from reducing their carbon footprints and perhaps not going on cruises, individuals can’t do all that much, but they certainly can put pressure on the authorities to take action.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Nonpoint Source Pollution (Polluted Runoff)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Homeowners’ Guide to Protecting Frogs -- Lawn and Garden Care
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Marine Litter -- Trash That Kills
- National Geographic News: Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean After All -- And Fast
- Whale and Dolphin Conservation: Oceans of Noise
- Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images