The subject of ocean pollution and the damage it does to the ecosystem requires a book. A very large, dense book. At present, it’s a disturbing read.

Every year, 1.4 billion pounds of trash enters the ocean. It consists of run-off pesticides, herbicides, detergents, oils, chemical fertilizers and untreated sewage. The latter is primarily plastic which erodes into micro-plastics and can be found on most of the world’s beaches including the one in front of the $20,000 a month house you just rented in the Hamptons.

According to the National Ocean Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce), 80% of marine pollution comes from the land and includes anything purposely discarded or that flows into the ocean from sources like roads, farmland, industrial facilities, residential and commercial buildings through run-off.

New York City suffers from such a problem. During high rain and snowstorms, sewers become flooded by runoff. They, in turn, overcome the capacity of treatment plants, adding untreated waste water to storm water, with that overflow depositing pollutants directly into our waterways.

We’ve been a huge proponent of green roofs in the city, whether they are simply covered in native grasses, decorative or worked as urban farms, because they absorb storm water that would otherwise flood the streets and sewers.

The Atlantic Ocean (north and south) has a garbage patch with a density of 200,000 pieces of marine debris per square kilometer. Estimates are that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific contains 18 trillion pieces of plastic and 80,000 tons of garbage. 99% of it is plastic.

It doesn’t look like 18 trillion single use plastic bags and soft drink bottles because the plastic has been reduced to microscopic, suspended particles. But it’s there and doing extreme damage:

* An abundance of pollution creates ocean dead zones where marine life cannot survive. There are currently approximately 500 ocean dead zones.

* Because birds and sea mammals mistake plastic for food or unavoidably eat microscopic marine debris, according to UNESCO, “plastic debris causes the death of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. “

* Because debris requires oxygen to decompose, the levels of oxygen in the ocean declines, affecting marine animals ranging from sharks to turtles and penguins.

* Because pollution affects the food chain, humans who eat fish and other marine life can be exposed to health problems that include cancer and birth defects. (All those feel good/eat good/be healthy websites that promote fish protein either don’t know, or don’t tell you, that there’s a down side.)

We’ve written this before, but it’s worth writing again:

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
– Inspirational speaker and one of the world’s greatest explorers, Robert Swan

Thus, Part Two of this series will explore the many organizations that are fighting pollution and the innovative ways they’re doing it.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

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