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Safe at Sea: It all flows downstream

By Staff | May 19, 2020

Dive magazine recently ran an excellent article regarding the plastic pollution problem that begins and – here in Southwest Florida – ends in our own backyard (the Gulf of Mexico).

Ocean pollution is a global problem. Plastic has been found in the deepest trenches of the sea floor. We have all seen pictures of massive floating patches, and we continue to be shocked. But where does it all come from? “Nonpoint source pollution” is the term given to items where there is no single source of this debris. In other words, plastic is a “nonpoint source pollution”: it comes from everywhere.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications estimated that between 1.15 million and 2.41 million tons of plastic enters the oceans every year via rivers. A UK research project (Eunomia Research and Consulting) concluded that more than 80 percent of the annual plastic debris comes from land-based sources. The rest comes from plastics released at sea (i.e. discarded fishing gear).

Understand: This means that 80 percent of that approximately two-plus million tons of debris was deposited into the rivers-gulfs-oceans.

Here in Southwest Florida, we know that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the locks and dams on all navigable waterways in the United States. One representative of the Corps explained, “There isn’t a safe and cost-effective way to separate plastic from natural debris.” The Corps representative was Chuck Minsker from the Huntington District in Ohio, and he tells how all the debris, then gets pushed downstream.

So, debris can (and does) travel from Ohio, which joins the Mississippi and makes its way to our Gulf of Mexico.

Solution? Right now, there is none.

Action? Though seemingly small, there are steps each of us can take every day.

– Use less plastic.

Use re-usable water bottles, as well as coffee mugs.

Use re-usable grocery bags (and when you forget to take it with you into the store, turn around, return to your car and grab one!)

Plastic packaging is not always avoidable, so be sure to recycle all that plastic.

Also, when walking the beach, pick up a couple of pieces of debris and dispose it in trash cans.

Just two simple actions: use re-usable and pick up trash.

Think global – act local!

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.