Expert Insights

Protecting Our Oceans

Laurance Yap
July 10, 2023
The degradation of our oceans, known as marine pollution, stems from a combination of human caused dispersal of trash and chemicals that are washed out to sea in massive amounts. Over five million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year. What can you do to help?
two people cleaning up the beach

Becoming Part of the Solution

GreenCars offers a safe haven for the green lifestyle. A place where you can learn how to be a part of the solution when it comes to many of the manmade ecological maladies that face our world today.

In this article, we hope to explain some of the perils that exist for our oceans and waterways including the steps you can take to help clean them up. When faced with big problems we often hear people lament, “What can I do? I’m just one person.” Well, small changes that we all can make result in a big difference in the world. Together, we can be the change.

Polluted water

About Marine Pollution

The degradation of our oceans, known as marine pollution, stems from a combination of human caused dispersal of trash and chemicals that are washed out to sea in massive amounts. Over five million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year. This has resulted in enormous damage to sea life and all creatures that eat ocean foods – including humans.

You might be surprised where some of this pollution comes from. While direct industrial contamination of our oceans from chemical plants has been reduced in recent years, other forms of “nutrient pollution” comes from our farms of all places. Fertilizers, insecticides and other farm-related chemicals run off into our waterways and end up contaminating coastal waters that flow into the sea. For instance, a concentrated collection of dangerous chemicals like phosphorous and nitrogen from fertilizers are known to cause algae to grow out of control in marine environments. These “algal blooms” are harmful to humans and lethal to sea life. When sea life dies, there are ramifications for all of us. The least of which is that local and industrial fishing suffers and the price of fresh fish goes up.

Trash floating in the ocean

Plastic Oceans

Have you ever littered? Every day, a tremendous amount of manmade trash ends up in our oceans. Due to poor waste management, all the litter and forgotten junk in the world eventually finds its way into our oceans. The majority of marine trash is composed of plastic and over 80 percent of it starts off on land and washes out to sea. We’re talking about an immense aquatic grave of bottle caps and food wrappers, but the most worrisome being plastic bottles and plastic bags.

Plastic rings from six-packs can strangle sea life. Fish become tangled in our trash, some eat plastic bags and die. But the big problem with plastic is that it can take hundreds of years to decompose in our oceans. As plastic breaks down, much of it becomes “microplastic” pieces that are less than half an inch long. Those microplastics are then ingested by all manner of sea life, from plankton to whales. Plastic laden small fish are eaten by bigger fish, and so on and so on, until the delicious baked salmon on your dinner plate is ready for you to enjoy, with those same microplastics fused into its muscle tissue. Remember, you are what you eat.

Cleaning up the plastic in our oceans is no simple task. Many types of plastic do not float and vast amounts of our debris is forever lost deep beneath the waves. The plastic items that do float have amassed together in enormous floating “islands” of filth. There is actually such a swirling mass known as “The Pacific Garbage Patch” that exists far out in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. At last count, this mass of our plastic garbage was over 600,000 square miles in diameter.

The majority of plastic items that make their way to sea are not biodegradable or even recyclable. Any type of plastic that does not display a number inside the “recyclable triangle icon” is not able to be recycled. Always look for the number 1 through 7 to be inside the icon. Items that cannot be recycled includes trash bags, Ziplock bags, cereal box plastic, bubble wrap, clear plastic wrap, many department store bags, potato chip bags, single cheese wrappers, six-pack plastic and candy wrappers. Also, be aware that NO form of Styrofoam is recyclable. That includes to-go boxes, cups, dinnerware, packaging, packing peanuts and coolers.

What You Can Do

We want you to know that all is not lost and that change is coming. Currently, more than 60 countries have enacted regulations to limit or ban the use of disposable plastic items. There are also numerous organizations that are invested in cleaning up the debris that already exists in our oceans.

A woman with a reusable bag and water bottle


Changing our use of plastic will not happen overnight but we can start by preventing the plastic packaging that comes into our homes from ending up in the ocean. Single-use plastic is a large part of the problem. We’re talking disposable shopping bags, plastic bottles, food packaging materials, plastic utensils and straws. Purchase reusable non-plastic products such as grocery bags, produce bags, bottles, utensils, and coffee cups. Think about everything you use and throw away.

The biggest single thing you can do to help save our oceans is to participate in prevention of the problem. Be aware that “biodegradable” plastics only break down at temperatures far hotter than any ocean water. Use refillable bottles to store water and make sure you recycle single-use plastic items. When people litter, their plastic bottles are carried by wind, storms and water runoff into the sea. Do not litter!

Another thing you can do is avoid buying products that contain polyethylene, polystyrene or polypropylene. These produce tiny (less than one millimeter) plastic particles known as “microbeads” that are a growing source of ocean pollution. These microbeads can be found in everything from toothpaste to face scrubs and body-washes.

Group of people cleaning up garbage from the beach

Cleaning Up

Make smart choices when it comes to disposing of single-use plastic items, as they are the single biggest segment of marine pollution. Similarly, support bans on single-use plastics. At the present time, only nine percent of plastic is recycled worldwide. Recycling reduces new plastic circulation and keeps our trash out of the ocean.

One of the most rewarding things you can personally do is get involved with groups that collect plastic found on the beach. Collect plastic on your own or invite friends and family to help. Check out the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup for more information on how to get involved.

You can also try supporting non-profit organizations such as the Oceanic Society or the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Group of women driving their Hybrid to the beach

Drive a Green Car

Burning fossil fuels is bad for the oceans. Nearly one quarter of all manmade carbon emissions ends up in the sea and that causes the pH balance of the water to change and become more acidic. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “our oceans are now acidifying faster than they have in the past 300 million years.”

By driving a zero emission vehicle and using clean energy to recharge your car, you are part of the pollution solution in ways you might not even suspect. You’re making environmental change for the betterment of the planet and all its creatures.