Today is World Water Day, and if you live along one of the nation’s coastlines, you’ve probably noticed that you’re not alone when going for a swim. 

Ocean pollution is a major problem, and litter is a primary culprit. While laws have been designed to prevent people from dumping their trash into the sea, they haven’t eradicated the problem. Garbage still finds its way into our oceans and threatens marine life. 

After last year’s annual Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers in more than 100 countries and 42 U.S. states had removed more than 6.8 million pounds of trash. As Greenpeace notes, only a fraction of the 300 billion pounds of plastic produced globally is recycled, with massive quantities dumped in landfills or oceans. 

When exposed to the sun, wind and ocean currents, plastic degrades and is often mistaken for food. Dolphins, sharks, whales and other marine animals die painful suffocation deaths when carelessly discarded plastics become lodged in their throats or digestive systems. Seemingly innocuous pop tabs from aluminum cans and plastic six-pack wrappers are common killers. Simply cutting up your six-pack wrappers before discarding them is one small step toward protecting sea life. 

You’re not off the hook if you live in a landlocked state, as litter along streets often ends up in storm drains and rivers, eventually navigating its way into the ocean. Once there, it can survive for decades. 

Reducing litter and volunteering for cleanup programs are highly effective ways to safeguard our oceans. Click here to volunteer for a coastal cleanup program. 

Free Online Resource: Guide to Marine Debris 

For Your Organic Bookshelf: Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth 

Photo: Hans Sautter/Aurora Photos, courtesy of Ocean Conservancy