Ocean pollution is a fast-growing, contemporary environmental concern that is threatening the health of Earth’s major water sources and has the potential to affect the health of the average human being, if the problem is not addressed in a swift and diligent manner. Recently, for example, research scientists discovered a new floating patch of ocean garbage in the South Pacific (Montanari, 1). National Geographic writer Shaena Montanari states in her article “Plastic Garbage Patch Bigger Than Mexico Found in Pacific” that “this zone of plastic pollution could be upwards of a million square miles in size,” which gives her titled Mexico comparison a numerically scary reality (Montanari, 1). This discovery comes 20 years after researcher and sea captain Charles Moore discovered the Great (North) Pacific garbage patch, a find that ignited further research in the field. However, as Montanari’s article suggests, ocean pollution is not only still a significant threat to the health of the ocean, but that threat has been growing to the point that it could soon affect the health of human beings.
First, it is important to understand that pollution leads the way to contamination, which is of course the main concern of ocean garbage in terms of human health. Certainly, a person could avoid the ocean and therefore hope to avoid any contact with ocean pollution, but this is just not a realistic option given the fact that humans source a considerable amount of seafood from the world’s oceans. Pollution is “defined as any form of contamination in an ecosystem with a harmful impact upon the organisms in the ecosystem” (Clark, 2). Contamination is “used to describe the fact that a certain chemical compound is present in a certain habitat and/or the organisms living there” (Clark, 2). A perfect example of pollution and contamination was seen in 2016, where in the American city of Seattle researchers uncovered a litany of manmade, toxic materials in local, free-swimming Salmon. Specifically, Seattle salmon, which live in the Puget Sound, were contaminated with “81 drugs and personal-care products” (Mapes, 2). This is a concerning find because the research suggests that humans can contaminate and have contaminated the very food they eat. As ocean pollution is expected to worsen over the next 50 years, it is troubling to think about how much marine life, a portion of which will be seafood and consumed by humans, will be contaminated.

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Personal-care products and prescription drugs are not the only contaminant in ocean waters. The main contributor to ocean pollution is plastic waste. In a 2015 study, researcher Jenna Jambeck found that humans had produced approximately 275 million tons of plastic waste in 2010. Of that 275 million tons, approximately 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of thrown out plastic entered into ocean waters (Jambeck, 768). A 2016 study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation provides a more stunning perspective to the above statistics: “each year, at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean – which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute” (Neufeld, 1). The MacArthur study continues to states that this number is expected to increase to two garbage trucks per minute by 2030 and four garbage trucks full of plastic waste by 2050 (Neufeld, 1). Given what we now know about how human activity has contaminated salmon in Seattle, it is not a hard stretch of the imagination to expect that million square mile stretches of ocean garbage, which are expected to increase over the next 30 years, will translate to the further contamination of marine life.

The question that arises concerns what humans should do to address this growing contemporary problem. In 2013, a Dutch teenager named Boyan Slat recognized this issue and decided to take action. Slat quickly started brainstorming possible solutions to ocean pollution and developed what is known as the Ocean Cleanup Array. The Array is a 62-mile long inflatable blockade that floats on the surface of the ocean. It is a barrier that requires no nets (which can be deadly to marine life) and employs a solid, underwater screen that allows marine life to pass safely under the water while gathering floating plastic garbage on the surface (Slat, 1). The Array is an ingenious invention that Slat hopes will remove nearly half of the aforementioned Great Pacific garbage patch within 10 years. Slat’s work at his foundation is certainly impressive but it still leaves questions about what effect ocean trash will have on human health.

In the direct context, plastics and the range of chemicals used to create plastic can have adverse effects on humans (Thompson, 2157). However, in the context of ocean pollution and the role of plastic in that pollution, there is a concern that human health will be indirectly affected following contact or consumption of contaminated marine life. In the study “Plastics, the Environment and Human Health: Current Consensus and Future Trends,” researchers found that plastic garbage often comes in the form of small microplastics, which is easily ingested by unsuspecting marine life, resulting in death and disease in some cases (Thompson, 2155). This translates to the grim outlook that marine life could perish as a result of plastic ocean garbage or plastic ocean garbage could cause widespread disease and contamination. It is clear that something must be done to curtail ocean pollution. The world’s major water sources are currently under attack and so far there is little being done to solve the problem.

    References
  • Clark, Robert Bernard, Chris Frid, and Martin Attrill. Marine pollution. Vol. 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
  • Jambeck, Jenna R., et al. “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science 347.6223 (2015): 768-771.
  • Mapes, Lynda V. “Drugs found in Puget Sound salmon from tainted wastewater.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 25 Feb. 2016, www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/drugs-flooding-into-puget-sound-and-its-salmon/.
  • Montanari, Shaena. “Plastic Garbage Patch Bigger Than Mexico Found in Pacific.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 27 July 2017, news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/ocean-plastic-patch-south-pacific-spd/.
  • Neufeld, L., Stassen, F., Sheppard, R., & Gilman, T. The new plastics economy: rethinking the future of plastics. In World Economic Forum. (2016).
  • Slat, Boyan. “Technology.” The Ocean Cleanup. N.p., n.d. Web (2017). .
  • Thompson, Richard C., et al. “Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364.1526 (2009): 2153.