According to a report released this week by the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, DC, the unfortunate missing plane scenerio highlighted another global problem: our trashed oceans.
The report says volunteers retrieved 12 million pounds of trash during last fall's International Coastal Cleanup, the highest ever in the event's 28-year history.
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Last year's cleanup spanned the globe, including coastal areas in Washington, California, and Japan. The event spanned more than 92 countries with more than 5,000 separate clean-up sites.
The trash that was found was staggering.
According to the report, the trash collected by nearly 650,000 would fill roughly 38 Olympic-sized pools. The garbage weight was equivalent 823 male African elephants.
Some more ocean pollution stats:
• Volunteers found a working iPad, a typewriter from 1904, and a loaded handgun.
• The amount of fishing line that was found would be able to go up and over Mount Everest five times
• The number of bottle caps found would carpet three football fields when laid side by side
• Volunteers collected enough items to furnish an entire apartment, including an air conditioner, a sink, and a refrigerator
"Recently, the tragic loss and subsequent search for the Malaysia Airlines jetliner drew the world's attention to large pieces of debris floating in the open ocean," says Nicholas Mallos, Ocean Conservancy's marine debris specialist and conservation biologist. "Now we have this data that shows the vast array of trash along shorelines and in the coastal ocean—and this is only a small fraction of what's out there."
Mallos added that the sparkling blue waters you swim in at your favorite tropical resort have the same problems outlined in the report. "Even in those beautiful tropic waters, you will find debris because at the end of the day, we have one ocean," he says. "It's truly a global problem."
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But is the answer really as simple as not littering the next time you head out to the beach? It's something to think about as the unofficial start to summer begins, says Mallos. "It doesn't have to be a complex solution when you're headed to the beach; there are ways to minimize your impact," he says. "We're not saying don't take your lunch or your drinks with you to the beach, just take everything with you when you leave."
And when you see that stray chip bag or bottle lying in the sand, pick it up, he added.
"It could be a small answer to a larger, more global problem," Mallos adds.
For more information on the cleanup from last year—or for info on how to get involved in this year's flagship event, visit the Ocean Conservancy. For more ways to protect our oceans—and your health—check out The Seafood You Should (and Shouldn't) Eat.