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All life on earth depends on water and most of the water sits in our oceans. They’re big. They’re vital. And, we’re killing them. It’s not just ocean fishing taking most of the good stuff like fish out. We dump tons of toxic stuff into them every year, too.

Some of that comes in the form of point-source pollution, things like waste oil, that we know how to regulate. Unfortunately, a lot of crud enters the oceans as non-source-point pollution, hard-to-regulate things like greenhouse gases, plastic bottles, and even minor-seeming things like cigarette butts kill the fish, too. Short of successfully enforcing some sort of global climate change treaty, which our politicians frankly seem too gutless to do, some individual activism might still be in order.

Threats to the Marine Environment Because of Humans

Why Care?

Well, other than that pesky all-life-on-earth thingy, maybe you actually like eating shrimp and other fish and you’d like to keep on eating them for the rest of your life. Trouble is the greenhouse gases we release every day don’t just pollute the air. Basic chemistry says that those gases dissolve in the water and make it acidic.

No, not like Aliens. It’s just acidic enough that most of the fish we like to eat can’t tolerate it. Scientists are already warning of unusual blooms in one thing that can, jellyfish. The Chinese will happily tell you that jellyfish have medicinal value, but even they don’t much like eating them. If you haven’t tried it, it’s a bit like fishy, gummy bear, spaghetti. It’s gross, but if you like seafood, you may be getting used to it.

As Jelle Bijma of the EuroCLIMATE programme said, you’d have to go back 35 million years to find the equivalent partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the oceans that we have already. For perspective, in the 1950s, the effects of greenhouse gas emissions were noticeable, but weren’t yet significant. We’ve done almost all of this damage in a few decades. That’s 300 times as far back as the Stone Age. Thirty-five million years is 12,000 times that. The reefs are already struggling to cope with the acid and the fish aren’t far behind.

What else? Oh, well, how about mercury poisoning? If you don’t already know that there are calculators on the web telling us how much fish of various kinds are safe to eat, you should. Right now they would warn you against eating swordfish (basically never) or tuna more than once per week. And, that assumes that your liver, kidneys, and lungs are still healthy enough to clear mercury from your body.


What to Do?

Some things are obvious. For example, you can calculate the safe mercury threshold and rein in the types and amount of seafood you eat. That’s depressing, but at least you know what to do. Also, you can organize to fight against what the EPA says is the main source of mercury pollution, coal fired power plants.

You can also use either organic fertilizers or apply chemical fertilizers sparingly enough to make sure that they end up in the veggies rather than running off into the oceans where they create coastal dead zones. Go ahead. Look those up. NOAA keeps track of the coastal dead zones from our annual agricultural runoff. You can see it from space. Also seen from space … those giant whirlpools of trash floating in the oceans. They kill, too, so reuse and recycle. And, of course, drive less. Walk or ride a bike more. Use Energy Star appliances. Shut off the lights. And so on.


You’ve Heard Those Before so, What Else?

One thing you may not have thought about or even heard yet concerns the growing movement to stop cigarette butts from getting to the water. For example, see the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project to see exactly how bad this is for the ocean. Non-biodegradable, cigarette butts are also loaded with poisons including things like arsenic, acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, and toluene. 

  • As they say, some things on the legal horizon for dealing with the problem include:
  • Increasing fines and penalties for littering butts
  • Monetary deposits on filters
  • Increasing availability of butt receptacles
  • Expanded public education
  • Outright bans on the sale of filtered cigarettes


Of course, they leave out the obvious. Why produce cigarette butts at all when you can use e cig juice? That might be the only remaining choice soon enough anyway. As a study by Elli Slaughter at San Diego State University showed, a single cigarette butt with a bit of leftover tobacco stuck to it per liter of water kills half of the fish swimming in it. Technological solutions are easy, and they’re not all bad.

Greg Dastrup is a world traveler and professional writer with a passion for learning new languages. He’s spent most of his career consulting for businesses in North America.


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