Knowledge About the Ocean Can Help Save Marine Life
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by one global interconnected body of water. It’s the
source of all life and has a system of currents that drives water, oxygen, nutrients and heat around the planet.
Life, as we know it, is based on water. But because water makes up approximately 72 percent of the Earth's
surface, water-like air-is often taken for granted. For many of us the ocean is merely a trip to the beach.
However, scientists go all over the world to see and study the ocean and marine life.
Debris from man-made items, especially those made of plastics are finding their way into the oceans. On the
sands of Laysan, a remote Pacific Island has plastic trash washed ashore by the waters of the Pacific.
Today, this is happening on remote islands around the world.
Floating and beached plastic is an eyesore, however, the problem goes far beyond aesthetics. Scientific
studies report that plastic trash is causing injury and death to countless marine animals that feast on it or
become ensnared in it. Plastics may even be one of the greatest source of mortality among marine mammals
as are oil spills, heavy metals or other toxic materials.
Prime contributors to the growing tide of plastic pollution are the world's merchant ships, which, dump at
least 16.6 million tons of trash overboard every year. Some 1639,000 plastic containers and bags are tossed
into the oceans every day. Commercial fishermen are also major offenders. Estimates of the plastic fishing
gear lost or discarded at sea every year range as high as 1150,000 tons.
Boaters and beach-goers add to the marine litter with six-pack yokes, picnic utensils, sandwich bags and
Styrofoam cups. Cities and industries discharging waste directly into the water or dumping it at sea are also
to blame. Perhaps the most ubiquitous form of plastic trash is the tiny polyethylene pellets used in the manufacture of plastic items and are use in shipping. Almost without exception, many surveys show plastic accounts for over three-fourths of the man-made products on the ocean surface.
This plastic is taking a heavy toll on marine life, particularly on seals, sea lions, turtles and seabirds. By one
estimate, as many as over 90,000 northern fur seals in the Pribilof Islands die each year after becoming
enshrouded in netting. Young seals get their heads or flippers caught in it. Then they either become
exhausted from toting it or their ability to catch food is restricted. Smaller plastic items are frequently
mistaken for prey by turtles and birds, often with fatal results. Leatherback turtles, which feast on jellyfish,
are particularly attracted to plastic bags. Any kind of film or semi-translucent material appears to look like
jellyfish to them.
At least 42 species of seabirds are known to snack on plastic. Of 50 albatrosses found ill or dead on the
Midway Islands, 45 had eaten some form of the substance. In several, the plastic had either obstructed the
digestive tract or caused ulcers. Everything from toy soldiers to pens, fishing bobbers and poker chips in the
One study of wedge-tailed shearwaters, which breed on central Pacific islands, showed that 60% of the
adults surveyed had ingested plastic. Even sea gulls, which are able to disgorge disagreeable food, are not
immune to the plastic threat. They have been strangled by six-pack yokes. This junk is growing in
abundance year by year. It is just getting worse. Knowledge about the delicate balance needed to keep marine life healthy and the interconnectedness that exists in the oceans of the world can help us prevent additional animals from becoming extinct. Also visit these great educational web sites:
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