Every year, around 28 billion pounds of trash finds it way into our oceans. The infamous “trash island” know as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone is estimated to be greater than the size of Texas. It seems to be common knowledge that these massive garbage clusters exist, but where does all of this debris come from?
I have been living in Southeastern Louisiana for 4 years, a lot of that time I have spent paddling and guiding swamp tours on a section of the West Pearl River, a 450 mile waterway that drains a significant portion of Mississippi and Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico. Immediately, I noticed the insane amount of trash and debris clogging and congesting huge sections of river that we explored. Turns out over half of the unnatural materials that wind up in our oceans come from freshwater rivers flowing into them. That seems like a staggering statistic until you observe first hand the state of these low income southern stretches of these coastal flood plains. Everything from 2-liter bottles to washing machines and sections of storm-damaged houses are all too common to see while floating along these murky brown waters. Many of the rural areas surrounding the river do not have trash services, instead, residents form trash or burn piles in their yard until they take it to the dump or have a chance to burn it. Flooding season hits hard in the southern united states and water levels can surge sometimes 8 feet vertically over night, ripping these trash piles of the banks and into the river before being properly disposed of.
I have seen these dynamics and now have an understanding of where all of this trash in our oceans come from, but what can we do about it? For starters, consider where your personal trash ends up… Even cigarette butts find their way into the ocean eventually and can poison or choke our creatures of the sea. If you are looking to help on a larger scale get involved with your local conservation and clean up efforts. These organizations are always looking for volunteers. Clean and safe water is soon to be a desperate commodity on this planet. Get involved with your local watershed cleanup and reduce the amount of trash that makes its way into our oceans. If you live in Louisiana and would to get involved, contact us! We organize bi-annual river cleanups in the Pearl River area and we are always looking for volunteers or explore the Ocean Conservancy to get involved!