Around 8 million items of litter enter the marine environment every day


I’m sure the headline of this article has caught your attention.

But marine litter doesn’t really make a difference to your or me does it? It’s just makes places look unpleasant.

It actually does affect us, in lots of different ways: it can poison the water, kill organisms, and even poison us.

Scottish fishing vessels have surveyed:

  • 86% restricted catch due to marine litter
  • 82% had catch contaminated
  • 95% snagged gear on debris in water

Populations of commercial fish stocks are declining because of the bioaccumulation of litter-related toxins. For example, sewage goes into the ocean every day and contains bacteria and viruses, and then you have the nutrients entering from agricultural wash off leading to algal blooms and dead zones. Fifty years ago there were only 49 known ocean dead zones… now there is over 400 worldwide.

Marine litter is a global issue, but all is not lost. Some dead zones can be temporary and repaired, but we need to change our ways as a species now. If we work together we can really make a difference.

Every year there are new legislations being passed to limit the amount of litter entering our waters. But there is still so much left to be done and we can make a difference.

There is so much you can do!

  • Talk to your children: Explain to them in simple terms the effects of their litter and the importance that they clean up after themselves. I’ve linked a helpful site with ways to discuss the situation with young children.
  • Clean up after yourselves: When you are out make sure you clean up your own litter (if possible you could clean up some other litter too – only footprints should be left).
  • Litter picks: Why not start a day out by joining a local litter pick? It doesn’t even have to be at a beach! When you attend a litter pick make sure you have the correct precautions such as gloves and sturdy shoes, and please keep an eye on any children taking part, because you never know what they could find
  • In 2014 Surfers against Sewage (SAS) organised 335 beach clean-ups and received over nine thousand volunteers in the UK. Their goal is to have reduced litter on UK beaches by 50% by 2020, a goal which is easily reachable if we all work together and volunteer. There is an estimated 41,146,380 pieces of marine litter on the British coast line. Sounds like an impossible goal, huh? Actually, in 2014 SAS collected almost 60 tonnes of litter. To learn more about SAS litter picks and how you can organise your own please click on this link: SAS beach clean campaign
  • Internationally there is who are working to organise international litter picks each year. This year it will be held on September 17th 2016. The site has some great information about how to reduce your litter effect for individuals and even businesses so why not check them out and sign their litter pick pledge.
  • Use less plastic: Plastic bags can take anywhere from 150 years to over a thousand before they degrade. Plastic bage are not biodegrade though; instead they are broken down by light into tiny fragments of plastic, which are toxic, and are known as microplastics. According to Greenpeace there are an estimated 1,000,000 birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea organisms dying each year from ingesting plastic bags alone. The bags are mistaken for jellyfish and other forms of edible sea creatures. Then you have microplastics which can be formed from the breakdown of larger plastics, but are also placed in products – like the ones in face scrubs and toothpastes, for example. Due to the tiny size it’s bypassed by water treatment and is washed down to the rivers, streams, and eventually the ocean. To see what different products contain microplastics look at this link.
  • Compost: Remember earlier I mentioned algal blooms? Well they can be caused by chemicals in the food we throw away or wash down or drains.

If you have the room and the time (it’s really simple) you could set up a compost heap, which not only reduces the amount of organic matter going into our oceans, but also can be used instead of artificial fertilizers.

marine litter

Some easy steps for setting up a home compost:

  • A home compost bin should be at least 1 metre cubed, with a lid to prevent rain entering.
  • Ideally site your compost bin in a reasonably sunny site on bare soil.
  • Bottomless bins are better as the allow earthworms to enter and speed up the process.
  • Lots of food waste can be used to make compost, except meat/fish products, dairy products, grease/oil or bones.
  • The smaller your scraps are cut the quicker then can decompose.
  • You can compost peelings, egg shells, hair, small amounts of paper/softcard, plants, and tea/coffee particles.
  • Keep filling it!
  • Composting can take weeks or months depending on how much air and moisture are present.
  • The compost is ready to use when it is crumbly in appearance and has a slightly earthy smell.
  • Spread away!

This isn’t an extensive list of how you can reduce the amount of litter going into the ocean: it’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start.

Article sources:

Marine Litter – An Analytical Overview – UNEP 2005

Recycling statistics

Lauren Fidler

Lauren Fidler

Lauren Fidler is a Marine Biology and Oceanography student at Plymouth university, hoping to specialise in marine conservation. She is also a keen diver and photographer.

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