11 facts you need to know
The ocean is the origin and the engine of all life on this planet — and it is under threat.
A big part of the problem: pollution.
So how does trash get into the ocean? It’s dumped, pumped, spilled, leaked and even washed out with our laundry. Each year, we expose the world’s waterways to an increasing variety of pollutants — plastic debris, chemical runoff, crude oil and more.
Fortunately, it’s not too late to clean up our act. Share the dirty truth about ocean pollution and help make a difference.
Plastic poses a double danger
Ocean plastic can be broken into smaller pieces — known as microplastics — by sun exposure and wave action, after which it can find its way into the food chain. When it eventually degrades (which can take hundreds of years in the case of a plastic bottle5), the process releases chemicals that further contaminate the sea. Tweet this fact »
Indonesia, India top the trash tally
More plastic in the ocean comes from Indonesia and India than anywhere else6 — together, they contribute more plastic to the world's coastal environments than the next seven countries combined, including the United States, which ranks third on the list. Tweet this fact »
Dive into conservation news
Pollution is in fashion (literally)
With each load of laundry, more than 700,000 synthetic microfibers7 can be washed into our waterways. Unlike natural materials such as cotton or wool, these plasticized fibers do not break down. One estimate puts the number of plastic microfibers in the ocean at 4 billion per square kilometer.8 Tweet this fact »
Even nutrients can become harmful
When dumped at sea in large amounts, agricultural nutrients such as nitrogen can stimulate the explosive growth of algae. When the algae decompose, oxygen in the surrounding waters is consumed, creating a vast dead zone that can result in mass die-offs of fish and other marine life.10 Tweet this fact »
The number of dead zones is growing
In 2004, scientists counted 146 hypoxic zones11 (areas of such low oxygen concentration that animal life suffocates and dies) in the world’s oceans. By 2008, that number jumped to more than 400.12 In 2017, in the Gulf of Mexico, oceanographers detected a dead zone nearly the size of New Jersey13 — the largest dead zone ever measured at the time. Tweet this fact »
The oceans are losing mussel mass
One effect of greenhouse emissions is increased ocean acidification, which makes it more difficult for bivalves such as mussels, clams and oysters to form shells14, decreasing their likelihood of survival, upsetting the food chain and impacting the multibillion-dollar shellfish industry. Tweet this fact »
Conservation International has spearheaded the creation of millions of square miles of marine protected areas — internationally recognized areas of the sea in which human activities, including fishing and shipping, are sustainably managed. We’ve also pioneered the Seascapes approach, partnering with local decision-makers to sustainably manage large, multiple-use ocean areas.
Since 2004, we've worked with partners in eight countries to conserve marine life in four key areas: the Abrolhos Seascape in Brazil; the Bird’s Head Seascape in Indonesia; the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador; and the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
- Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2003. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10388.
- Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. In Science (Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768–771). American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1260352
- World Economic Forum. (2016). The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf
- Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F. et al. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Sci Rep 8, 4666 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Marine debris is everyone's problem. https://www.whoi.edu/fileserver.do?id=107364&pt=2&p=88817
- Law, K. L., Starr, N., Siegler, T. R., Jambeck, J. R., Mallos, N. J., & Leonard, G. H. (2020). The United States’ contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean. In Science Advances (Vol. 6, Issue 44). American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abd0288
- Napper, I. E., & Thompson, R. C. (2016). Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions. In Marine Pollution Bulletin (Vol. 112, Issues 1–2, pp. 39–45). Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.09.025
- Parker, L. (2022, June). Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, but Big Questions Remain. National Geographic. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/ocean-trash-525-trillion-pieces-and-counting-big-questions-remain
- Barrett, J., Chase, Z., Zhang, J., Holl, M. M. B., Willis, K., Williams, A., Hardesty, B. D., & Wilcox, C. (2020). Microplastic Pollution in Deep-Sea Sediments From the Great Australian Bight. In Frontiers in Marine Science (Vol. 7). Frontiers Media SA. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2020.576170
- National Ocean Service. Nutrients: Pollution Tutorial. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_pollution//010nutrients.html
- DYBAS, C. L. (2005). Dead Zones Spreading in World Oceans. In BioScience (Vol. 55, Issue 7, p. 552). Oxford University Press (OUP). https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2005)055[0552:dzsiwo]2.0.co;2
- Diaz, R. J., & Rosenberg, R. (2008). Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems. In Science (Vol. 321, Issue 5891, pp. 926–929). American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1156401
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2017, August). Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’ is the largest ever measured. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-is-largest-ever-measured
- Bullard, E. M., Torres, I., Ren, T., Graeve, O. A., & Roy, K. (2021). Shell mineralogy of a foundational marine species, Mytilus californianus , over half a century in a changing ocean. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 118, Issue 3). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2004769118
- Weilgart, L. 2018. The impact of ocean noise pollution on fish and invertebrates. Report for OceanCare, Switzerland. 34 pp. https://www.oceancare.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/OceanNoise_FishInvertebrates_May2018.pdf