girl cleaning up microplastic at beach cleanup

Marine Debris

Why I Care About Marine Debris

I always knew that plastic in the ocean was a huge problem. However, it always seemed like the plastic issue was coming from inconsiderate beachgoers. After moving to Hawaii I realized the issue was far bigger than just people leaving their trash on the sand.

Walking the coastline on the East Side of Oahu you look down on the sand and see rainbow colors speckled about. I wish they were seashells but instead are microplastics that have been blown and pushed by the ocean currents to the shore. The first time I attended a beach cleanup in Hawaii I was astonished by just how much plastic and marine debris we collected.

I can't even count the amount of plastic I have seen while out freediving. There have been countless images I have taken photobombed by marine debris. As an underwater photographer I think it is important to document both the beauty in the ocean but also human's impact on it. Without grasping how bad the plastic problem is we can't be fully motivated to change for the better.

scientist looking through marine debris and commercial fishing nets

IT IS ESTIMATED THAT BY 2050 THERE WILL BE MORE PLASTIC IN THE OCEAN THAN THERE WILL BE FISH.

Why You Should Care About Marine Debris

Marine debris consists of all manufactured solids that are disposed of or abandoned, intentionally or unintentionally, into the ocean. Pretty much anything discarded in the ocean can become marine debris. 

Marine Debris has both direct and indirect effects on the ocean and the life that inhabits it. The most prevalent impact of marine debris is the direct impact on marine life through entanglement. Ghost fishing is one of the most prevalent issues with entanglement. Ghost fishing is when marine life are killed by fishing gear, such as net and line, left in the ocean after their initial use.

Ingestion of debris, such as microplastic can also be a huge issue for marine life. Over time we are finding that microplastics are bioaccumulating in larger species as smaller animals that consumed plastic are eaten by larger and larger predators. Even some of the seafood we consume has microplastics within the animals tissues.

bottle cap pollution in the ocean

How to Help Reduce Marine Debris:

1) Reduce your single-use.

It’s not about being perfect but every little bit helps! Choose reusable items over plastic ones that are meant to be thrown away right after use. Your choices as one person can help to create a lasting impact and limit the demand on companies to produce single use items.

2) Demand that companies do better.

Vote with your dollar. Refuse to support companies that continue to produce and use single-use plastic items. Write in to local and large scale businesses and encourage them to reduce their plastic production and usage.

3) Eat sustainable seafood.

A huge portion of marine debris is made up of debris from commercial fishing fleets. Every year nearly 1 million tons of derelict fishing gear is left in the ocean making up 10% of all marine debris. 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is fishing nets and gear. Did you know most modern fishing nets are made of plastic polymers?

4) Recycle and recycle right.

While it is definitely better to reduce your plastic use, if you do use plastic make sure you recycle. The recycling process is complex and can be different for each person depending on location and the type of plastic being recycled. Learn your local recycling regulations and be sure to properly dispose of your plastics so that they can be recycled effectively.

girl spearfishing in blue ocean in hawaii

5) Participate in local beach, river, and community cleanups.

Helping to remove and properly dispose of garbage and plastic left out in your area helps to prevent it from re-entering our oceans. Even if you live inland your plastic and trash can make it to the oceans.

6) Dress with sustainability in mind.

It is estimated that just one load of laundry could release thousands of micro plastic fibers into the water supply. All drains lead to the ocean right? Or at least they do eventually. That means every time you are washing your synthetic fabric clothing items more micro plastics could potentially be making their way to the ocean. Try to stick to organic clothing options, like cotton. You can also opt for thrifting or bringing new life to old pieces instead of buying new items and contributing to the production of more synthetic clothing.

photo credits: @bewell.christinemichelle, @katedolbier, @joshmunoz