Trash in the Ocean

Example of trash seen on all beachesYesterday I mentioned the large amount of trash we have seen on island beaches everywhere we have gone. Although we have only plied the Caribbean Sea so far, this problem is a global phenomena. In most cases, the trash we see on these otherwise pristine beaches – predominantly plastic items, but also glass, wood, and other floating items – can come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away from other lands who either directly dump their trash in the ocean, or allow countless tons of the stuff drain from their waters (rivers, or even drainage systems) right into the ocean. Another source are large ships – including some cruise ships – who dump their trash in the ocean thinking it will do no harm, or when container ships lose containers during storms (they stack them so high they are precarious and in a violent storm they simply fall off).

Plastic can last for years in the ocean floating even to other continents. The trash is often mistaken by animals – particularly birds – as food. Many birds have been found dead with stomachs full of small pieces of plastic – so full they died of starvation. In the sea, turtles see plastic bags and think they are jelly fish (one of their staple foods), and sometimes die of suffocation after being caught in the plastic. The plastic is particularly insidious because it takes years before it breaks down in the sun to smaller pieces. But, it still lasts and is consumed by birds, mammals and fish.

Some of you may have heard of the Pacific Gyre where millions of tons of trash have floated and swirled together in the large ocean currents to an area north of Hawaii. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In just one short mile-long beach, we’ve seen hundreds (possibly thousands) of plastic bottles, sandals, fish nets, and other trash. Multiply this times the number of islands we visited (more than two dozen so far on this trip), and multiply that times the hundreds of thousands of beaches we have not visited. It is mind boggling to think of how big the problem is.

You will occasionally find photos in our galleries showing examples of how widespread this problem truly is. There are steps everyone can take to reduce the problem: recycling plastic, re-using plastic bottles, bringing re-usable bags for your groceries instead of plastic bags, and making your politicians aware you would like your tax dollars spent to reduce trash into water-ways. Maybe someday it will be a true taboo to allow trash into the oceans. It will certainly take a long time to convince every nation, all ships, and every porson, to stop allowing trash to escape to the seas.

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4 Responses to Trash in the Ocean

  1. David says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite sometime now and especially appreciated the PatiCat blog. I fish and dive Florida and Bahamian waters weekly when there are nice seas. My future goal is to do a similar catamaran trip.
    I’m well aware of the trash problems. The only way to change the current situation is through awareness and action. NOT government expenditures.
    It’s annoying to read that you want the government to spend our taxpayer money (which is stolen out of our paychecks) on the task of removing ocean trash.
    You’ve got to be kidding right? Maybe you were just upset about the issue and didn’t think the statement through?!?!
    Frank, how about taking one trash bag to each island you visit and doing your part to clean the place up? How long could that take? Maybe 10 minutes per island?!? If every boat did that, the place would be immaculate.

  2. Frank Taylor says:

    @David: Although I believe education is a huge factor in solving the problem, it will still require civil engineering steps in drainage systems to remove trash from water-ways before they get into the ocean. Governments will have to be involved to implement the systems, institute laws, police the laws, and to clean up mistakes. But, it won’t be 100% effective unless all countries participate, which makes the political problem huge.
    If you went to the beaches around the world and witnessed the problem, you would realize your suggestion of picking up a bag of trash for each beach doesn’t scratch the problem. The next day, the beach would be covered again. We have to get to the root of the problem, not expect the socially conscientious minority to clean it up.

  3. Fred Horch says:

    I empathize with David’s comment about personal responsibility being the solution to the trash problem, not more taxes. I own a sustainable living store that offers practical solutions, giving people the choice to put their money where their mouths are. For example, we sell reusable bags so you don’t have to take plastic bags at the grocery store — we even sell reusable bags that are made out of recycled plastic bottles, killing two birds with one stone (so to speak). We also sell bulk cleaning supplies out of five gallon containers so you can bring your plastic bottles back to refill.
    I have little respect for so-called “environmentalists” who worry about everyone else without taking meaningful action in their own lives.
    However, much as I support (and make my living from) the free market as a small business owner, I think Frank has a point about needing to get to the root of the problem. This floating plastic trash problem has gotten too big and out of hand for it to be solved by do-gooder beach combers picking up trash.
    Where I come from (Maine), we believe that collecting trash is one of the things we pay taxes for the government to do. From the sorry state of our own New England beaches, it’s obvious that we the people need to hold the government accountable and make sure this public problem is being effectively addressed with the tax money we are already paying.
    I have to respectfully disagree with David and say, yes, I _do_ want the government to take care of ocean trash. First prevent more from being dumped into the ocean, and then work on cleaning up what’s there.
    With enough voters telling them to get the job done, our politicians may be smart enough to realize that the best way to clean up the ocean will be to hire private companies to actually do the work. Let entrepreneurs innovate and businesses compete for the job. But the money is going to have to come from us tax payers. Otherwise, it’s just too easy for everyone to keep looking the other way while the trash piles up around us.
    Thank you Frank for covering this issue in your blog! Looking forward to following your progress and seeing more of the world’s beauty, which makes it all the more compelling to take good care of it.

  4. Susan says:

    Yes, politics aside, I was wondering where boats would dispose of their extra bags of trash in a purely volunteer effort. Frank, what do you do with your trash? It seems like trash disposal on a journey such as yours would be a hassle as is without trying to clean up after the whole world.
    And have you seen these pictures?

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