Buy tickets for Disney’s Oceans, and you’ll see sobering footage of a shopping cart on the ocean floor—a sure sign of consumerism run amok.

This simple image conveys an incredibly important message: We’re destroying our environment. Climate change may garner more headlines, but ocean pollution remains a considerable concern. 

What can you do to reduce your impact? 

  1. Don’t Litter. Litter is a huge contributor to ocean pollution because it ends up in storm drains that eventually empty into rivers and streams. Even if you live miles away from the ocean, your litter will likely contribute to water pollution.
  2. Follow the Three R’s. How committed are you to the environmental mantra reduce, reuse, recycle? Your answer has a direct effect on the health of our oceans. Failure to embrace the three R’s leads to ocean pollution and mile-high landfills.
  3. Increase Your Sewage Awareness. Anything that goes down your dishwasher, washing machine, toilet and sink drains will eventually make its way into the ocean. This often leads to oxygen depletion that harms marine life, as well as nutrient loading, which occurs when excessive nitrogen and phosphorous are deposited into the ocean’s ecosystem. Sewage also increases ocean bacteria and parasites, creating a ripple effect that endangers the fishing and tourism industries.
  4. Understand the Dangers of Toxic Pollutants. Arguably, nothing is more detrimental to the world’s oceans than toxic pollutants, which have been linked to birth defects in wildlife and may contribute to cancer in humans. Lead and mercury collect in marine animals’ tissues, causing reproductive problems and nerve damage. World Wildlife Federation researchers have found that other wildlife, including polar bears and frogs, have experienced decreased fertility, thyroid dysfunction and demasculinization (in males)—a result of exposure to pesticides and industrial chemicals. Other toxic ocean pollutants include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are typically used to manufacture electrical equipment and have been known to cause reproduction problems in marine life. Genetic abnormalities have also been seen in marine animals exposed to polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are caused by burning wood and coal, as well as oil pollution.
  5. Participate in Community Cleanup Programs. Many seaside communities offer volunteer beach clean-up programs to keep their beaches clean and safe. By volunteering for such programs, you’re not only doing your part, but you’re also giving yourself an excuse to spend a day at the beach. 

For Your Organic Bookshelf: The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage