7 Million Pounds of Trash Removed From International Waterways

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The Ocean Conservancy recently announced that during the 23rd International Coastal Cleanup, 6.8 million pounds of debris was collected along the world’s waterways. The 2008 event involved 6,485 individual sites in 104 countries and 42 U.S. states, with nearly 400,000 volunteers participating – the largest event of its kind.

Trash on a beach in Kamilo, Hawaii. Photo: Suzanna Frazer for The Ocean Conservancy

Trash on a beach in Kamilo, Hawaii. Photo: Suzanna Frazer for The Ocean Conservancy

The report on the event, A Rising Tide of Ocean Debris and What We Can Do About It, features the organization’s annual Marine Debris Index, the world’s only country-by-country, state-by-state analysis of trash in our ocean and waterways. This year’s report focuses on the hazardous impacts of trash on wildlife and the resilience of our ocean in the wake of rising sea levels, warming and acidification.

“This report – analyzing nearly seven million pounds of trash – is a global snapshot that shows how we are part of the marine debris problem—and a key to the solution. By changing behaviors and policies, individuals, companies, and governments can help improve the health of our ocean, the Earth’s life support system,” said Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy.

Among many actions named in the report to reduce marine debris, the report highly recommends individuals recycle, reuse or properly dispose of trash to keep these items out of the ocean to begin with.

By the Numbers

Among the findings in the report, some highlights include:

The top 10 marine debris items collected by during the 23rd International Coastal Cleanup. Source: The Ocean Conservancy

  • The amount of waste removed (6.8 million pounds) is equivalent to the weight of 18 blue whales.
  • Volunteers collected 11.4 million items in all, from cigarette butts to grocery bags to food wrappers.
  • The same percentage and types of items found along the ocean were found in inland waterway cleanups. According to the U.S. EPA, more than 50 percent of marine debris starts out on land.
  • Leaky paint cans, empty yogurt cups and abandoned fishing gear can lead to entanglement and suffocation of wildlife. Ingested trash can also cause choking, blockage of the digestive system or toxic poisoning.
  • Volunteers collected 1,362,741 cigarette butts in the U.S.; 19,504 fishing nets in the U.K.; and 11,077 diapers in the Philippines. This information can help planners at local, regional, national and international levels tackle specific marine debris problems.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, “Keeping our ocean free of trash is one of the easiest ways we can help improve the ocean’s resilience as it tries to adapt to the harmful effects of climate change such as melting ice, rising sea levels, and changing ocean chemistry […] Life in the ocean will be healthier, more resilient and better able to adapt to climate change in the absence of debris-related impacts.”

The 24th International Coastal Cleanup will be held around the world on September 19, 2009.

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