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Michelle Harris

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Taking the Trash Out of Our Oceans

Posted: 04/16/10 02:20 PM ET

Surf, sand, sun and garbage! Beaches all over the world are facing a momentous man made threat, debris. The effects of debris can be devastating and it's continuing to increase world wide. It's astounding that we have a trash island in the Pacific bigger than the United States. Yesterday researchers announced that we have a second marine garbage patch in the Atlantic. The great Atlantic marine garbage patch stretches over thousands of square miles and we still aren't taking the problem seriously. Debris is more then just an eyesore when we hit the beach; it's a real threat to our health, the health of the ocean, and wildlife.

It's estimated that 80 percent of marine debris comes from the land, while 20 percent comes from sea based sources, such as shipping, boating and fishing. There is approximately three and a half million tons of debris just off the coast of California. Poor disposal of trash from things like our Sunday picnic and other beach side activities are one source. The Ocean Conservancy just released their marine debris index which shows that 60 percent of all marine debris items found in 2009 were disposable. Simple items like plastic plates, forks, and cups are turning our waterways into aquatic dumps.

Trash from inland sources can just as easily end up in the ocean as it gets washed out to sea through storm drains. What was carelessly thrown out of the car miles inland can end up adding to our mountain of marine debris. Because of the surge in debris from these areas, some local community leaders are working to take action and raise awareness. Kristi Blicharski, a Neighborhood Council Member in Woodland Hills, CA, is one local leader who is taking the lead on helping to keep inland trash from hitting beach. Blicharski is organizing a town hall meeting for Earth Day to raise awareness and help residents in the San Fernando Valley understand more about the effects of litter and toxic runoff in the Pacific Ocean. "It's important to get more facts out to people so they understand how and why our trash and chemicals, especially plastics, end up polluting our coast, even though we are several miles away," says Blicharski.

There is a huge cost associated with debris. It effects tourism and other industries that depend on the ocean for their survival. It also impacts our health. Pollution of our oceans makes the food we eat increasingly toxic. It has changed something as simple as going for a swim or doing other water related activities. As debris is washed out to sea it brings with it high bacteria levels. Just ask any surfer. After it rains, the ocean can become so filled with bacteria that you have to stay out of the water for about three days. Yet most of us find this acceptable. Why should you have to worry about taking your family to the beach? Something that should be fun, low cost and everyone can enjoy. Even if you don't take a dip, most beach goers can find a wide array of trash right in the sand. I have come across everything from sharp and dangerous objects to things that have a surprisingly high ick factor.

Carelessly tossed fishing lines, nets and plastic bags have been harming sea birds and marine life. What is trash to us may look like food to some animals, which can choke or starve to death when they try to ingest these items. What is going on with debris ends up hurting all of us, and we all pay the cost.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help.

1. Get your garbage off the beach! Help to save the planet just by cleaning up after yourself! Dispose of all waste materials properly.

2. Spread the word about marine debris. Heal the Bay has a new "Trash your Friends" campaign that let's you eco- punk your friends. You send an e-mail tease to someone that you "trashed" them and when they click on the link the page fills up with harmless images of plastic bags. http://trashed.healthebay.org/#/actnow

3. If you are a boater, hold all your trash for proper disposal back on land.

4. Watch the fishing line. Make sure it is properly disposed of in a trash container. Fishing line is a death sentence for marine birds and other wildlife!

5. Don't dump in storm drains! The chemicals you put in many storm drains end up going out to sea. Dispose of harmful liquids properly.

6. Kick the disposable habit. Purchase items that reusable.

7. Inland trash matters too! Trash doesn't have to be left on the beach to get to the beach. Garbage carelessly tossed may end up in a storm drain and then out to sea.

8. Get involved with a beach clean up! It's a great way to give back, meet people and enjoy the beach. Heal the Bay sponsors monthly beach clean ups. www.healthebay.org . The Ocean Conservancy will hold an international coastal clean up on September 25th, 2010. www.theoceanconservancy.org

9. Support legislation that discourages the use of single use plastic bags.

10. Kick the habit. Cigarettes and cigars pollute your lungs, the air, land and waterways.

The good news is by doing a few simple things and keeping debris where it belongs, we can help turn the tide for our oceans.

 

Follow Michelle Harris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greengirlca