Our Ocean’s are Dying, Here’s Why

When you Google “beaches”, it shows these stunning photos that we all think of in our minds. Shining clear sands, beautiful blue oceans, it is what we all see; the sad thing is beaches look nothing like this today. My first encounter with the ocean in general happened when I was very young. My family and I have gone to the beach every summer ever since I could remember. To be more specific, we go to the same place every year and I have gotten to witness all its changes. I remember seeing the clear beaches, full of life and adventure.

Malibu Beach —
Béci on Flickr

My favorite place to go is the beach; I feel like it is a place to connect with your environment, family, and friends. It brings a peacefulness over me whenever I get the chance to go, I also noticed how I felt happier there. As I got older, I started noticing things changing around me. Whether it was the garbage on the beaches, noticing plastics being pushed onto shore, even one time finding a dead animal from suffocation. After witnessing all these factors getting worse in person, it broke my heart and caught my attention fast. As all preteens my age did whenever they had questions, I went to the internet.

Once I researched things harming the ocean, I was surprised with some of the results. For instance, when we put on sunscreen for a day at the waterpark, we don’t think anything of it. We simply think of protecting our skin from the strong UV rays of the sun, but what we did not know was that most sunscreens are killing environments in the oceans. These environments are some many people wish to see, coral reefs.

Coral Photo — USFWS on Flickr
Bleached Coral — Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr

Most sunscreens are made with a chemical called “oxybenzone” which is fatal to coral larvae. People are now noticing the effects it has because of these colorful reefs losing color (also known as bleaching). What people don’t know is these reefs are affecting the wildlife; phytoplankton, small crustaceans, mollusk’s, fish, and urchins. Without these key organisms in the ecosystem, our food chain would fall apart, slowly working its way up until there is no marine life left. Fish are a main source to support our food webs and urchins are ecosystem engineers; they are an essential part of building marine habitats. Imagine your kids, younger siblings, or simply a new generation growing up without knowing of fish or sea turtles, it would break your heart knowing they missed out on some true beauty. But this can easily be reversed, if we stop using sunscreens with the harmful oxybenzone in them. Personally, I would reccomend using mineral sunscreens, or just look into the ingredients before purchasing something that can damage our ecosystem.

Variety of Sunscreens — Photo by me

There are other factors that come into play with habitats, commercial fishing industries have been making it difficult for coral reefs to thrive. Whether from their boats scraping against the corals to the plastic fishing nets that are also a part of the pollution rising in the oceans. Now, I know you are thinking that saving these reefs seems like the easiest task, just get rid of the bad sunscreen! But no, there is another thing stopping our reefs from growing; they are called microplastics. To illustrate, microplastics are blocking the sunlight from reaching an alga that allows the coral to photosynthesize (yes, corals photosynthesize to grow and heal, just like normal plants). Everything seems to influence one another, especially with pollution in our seas.

My Fridge — Photo by me

This is where I got into marine biology, I studied what was going on and fell in love with it. Now, I do not want to be a marine biologist, but I am still passionate about the oceanic environment in general. I did not want to be one of those people who say they are helping the environment by replacing one or two things in life for “bettering the oceans”, I wanted to do research on why things are happening, and how we could save our environments from dying. So, I did my research and convinced my family to stop using plastic straws and bags. Now, I understand you feel like you cannot stop using all plastics. I still use milk jugs, ketchup bottles, etc. because they are just a lot easier to use and I believe we can all agree with that, although they are still very damaging. Using plastic is the easiest option, but once you realize what it is doing it will make you second guess. For example, there are many different types of plastic, there are (in total) seven types of plastics, yet only two are truly recyclable. This made me wonder, if only two are recyclable, where does the rest of this plastic go?

To be fair, there are a lot of places it could be: recycling plants, being burned, etc. Shockingly, whenever we recycle our plastics thinking we are saving our environment, only 8.4% of 35.4 million tons of plastic is recycled. Think of all the plastics you use in a day, from the grocery store bags, to what you buy, all that plastic yet only 8.4% is recycled; the rest of it ends up being in a landfill or incineration. What does this mean? It means that since only 8.4% is being recycled, companies can keep making more plastics for consumers; more damage is done to our environment, plastics today “. . .make up 80% of all marine debris — from what’s floating on the surface to deep-sea sediments”. This shows how much plastic is in our oceans and how much could be killing innocent life in the depths.

Although, we have been forced into a world where manufactures save money by using the easiest material. I understand how we all want to save our environment, but it is much more difficult in hindsight. Almost everything we buy is or has a layer of plastic on it. In the world we live in, we learn that the things we are using/doing are wrong for the environment. Yet, it is the easiest way, so we continue to use/do said thing. I believe if we worked together to figure out another material that is easy to use and safe for the environment, we would forget plastic ever exsisted.

Surprisingly, there are many causes that make plastics sink. For instance, plastics breaking down into smaller pieces, also known as microplastics; microorganisms going onto plastics bringing them down into the ocean depths. Microplastics do not just harm animals but the food chain and animals’ reproductive systems causing them to lay less eggs. But plastic breaking down is not the only way microplastics are made, they are also found in hygiene products and in our clothes. Think of hygiene products, toothpaste, face wash, soaps, and more all causing damage to our oceanic habitats without realizing.

Marine Debris — USFWS on Flickr

Going back into pollution, whether from the plastics not recycled to people littering without thinking of the damages, there is a big thing being created you may have heard of. It is a huge mound of trash floating in our ocean; you are probably wondering; how big would you consider it? Well, the fact that it is considered an island size of at least 1.6 million kilometers, I would say that is big. This island of trash is called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is made of a lot of non-biodegradable materials, causing them to cluster together because of the tides. National Geographic does a wonderful job explaining why plastic is ones of the most damaging of all, “Plastic’s durability, low costs, and malleability is making it a popular pick for more consumers products; plastic goods do not biodegrade, instead just break down into tiny pieces called microplastics”. They do an amazing job of explaining why we cannot get rid of plastics as easily as we thought. National Geographic explains how because consumers (AKA us!) keep buying plastic materials, the industries see no issue in making more.

Atoll Eating Marine Debris — USFWS on Flickr

Because of this, marine life is taking a toll. The creatures of the deep blue sea are mistaking plastic items as their food sources. For example, loggerhead sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, their main food source. Not only are these creatures eating the plastic on accident, but it is also suffocating them. As I stated above, I had seen a suffocated animal at the beach I visit every summer. It was some type of bird, with fishnets around its throat and body. It clearly had gotten tangled up, most likely diving for food, and drowned because of it. This proves how plastic is not just affecting marine animals now, but others too. Today, every one in three fish sold contains microplastics that us humans will eventually eat, without knowing. When plastic starts making species endangered, eventually seafood being sold will become less and less available. If we do nothing to stop these man-made products from hurting our seas, not only will we be missing many creatures but a key part in our food chain.

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Rachel J.

Hey! I am Rachel. Currently I am a college student writing what interests me.