Why Beach Cleanups Are Vital To A Healthy Ocean
These days, plastic seems to be everywhere! Unfortunately, that includes plastic that is traveling in ocean currents or caught in the swirl of the garbage patches, or even bedded deep within the Arctic sea ice. With how many tiny bits you may find mixed into our sandy beaches, picking up this micro plastic may feel far removed from the massive problem of plastic that is continually floating in, one wave at a time. However, this cycle is not a one way street and with plastic floating onto beaches, plastic will also be pulled back to sea during high tide. This is because plastic is buoyant and if we can remove the beach plastic we can prevent the plastic from becoming even smaller bits or trapped in the vortex called the garbage patches of our sea.
Where does all this ocean trash come from? Ocean trash setbacks are far more closely connected to our everyday life than you think. Much of the land based debris falls out of cars or comes from one of the overfilled trash cans right in the middle of our city. The wind may blow this random trash down a street into a nearby river that flows directly into the ocean. Over time, the sun deteriorates plastic into smaller innumerable pieces, known as micro plastics, that blend deeply into our everyday environment. These plastics break down much slower in the ocean than on the land. Plastics floating in the ocean are under the surface of a few inches of water and the water is much cooler than the surface of our land or a warm sandy beach. With this said, it is vital that the land based plastic or sand plastic is removed fast before the sun breaks the plastic down and it ends up in the ocean.
Plastic starts breaking down from a large fragment into smaller fragments and then into micro plastics that eventually become so small that it takes a microscope to even see them, let alone clean out of the ocean. Plastic degrades when exposed to light and warm temperatures by the sun. Today, plastics that are small pieces are known as micro plastic. The sun light spectrum known as UVB that causes sunburns and skin cancer, also starts the process for plastics to breakdown by Ultraviolet B radiation. This process is known as photo-oxidation, that is a chemical reaction that uses oxygen to break the links in the molecular chains that make up plastic. This happens on land faster then in cool water.
On a hot day, the beach sand can heat the surface that the plastic is sitting on up to 104 degrees fahrenheit, while the ocean gets darker and colder the deeper it goes beneath the surface of the ocean waters. In Oregon, the average water temperature of the Pacific Ocean is 50 degrees. While on the other side of the United States, in Florida, the average temperature is around 89 degrees fahrenheit. Still, these are much less than a sandy beach temperature that can get up to 104 degrees causing plastic to degrade much faster than in the ocean. A plastic bottle in the ocean will travel all over, degrading slowly with higher chances of landing in the vortex called the garbage patch. While on a sunny warm beach this plastic bottle will degrade faster, resulting in tiny cracks and becoming brittle and in no time will become hundreds of smaller pieces, if not thousands. But, keeping the same molecular structure locked into hydrogen and carbon chains that truly never go away.
Plastic sitting on beaches is not only carried into the ocean by high tide, but the wind pulls the tiny plastics back into the ocean, which most likely will end up getting into humans after fish consume the unknown tiny plastics into their diet. People unknowingly stepping on plastic breaks the plastic down into even smaller fragments and once those pieces get out into the garbage patches, they never get back out. Ocean Blue Project's team has discovered that removing plastic fragments from land is much easier than trying to remove the tiny plastic pieces from the water and almost impossible to remove once it's back in the ocean.
Ocean currents move fast carrying plastics from shallow waters to deeper unreachable waters of our ocean. However, regularly volunteering at beach cleanups or visiting your favorite beach or waterway and cleaning up any plastic or other marine debris can go a long way to keeping millions of tiny microplastics—some so tiny they can only be seen with a microscope—from reaching the garbage patches or being consumed by your favorite fish that you may have for dinner one night. You can help save our world ocean and our the health of future generations. Beach cleanups are more important than we once knew and should be part of our everyday focus to save the environment from plastics that if entered into the ocean may remain thousands of years, or maybe forever.