What does the ocean mean to you? For some people, it’s the simple pleasure of seaside holidays. Sandcastles, parasols and jellyfish.
Or maybe its depths inspire questioning and curiosity. The ocean deep is, after all, less explored than the surface of the moon. There are creatures in ocean trenches to rival any sci-fi writer's weirdest aliens.
In fact, our planet’s surface is mostly water. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is water, and the oceans hold over 95% of all the water on Earth.
Whatever your perspective on the ocean, we can’t get away from the fact that it’s fundamental to all forms of life on the planet.
Yet, tragically, the ocean is under threat. From marine mammals to seabirds, coral reefs to East Coast beaches, untold damage is being caused across our ocean.
Pollution has infected every corner of the ocean – but most of it is hidden away beneath the surface, or floating in great patches in the Pacific.
Let’s shed some light on marine pollution. When we understand the scale of the problem, it gives us the impetus to do something about it.
That’s why we’ve been beach combing for the key statistics about marine pollution. Arm yourself with the facts, and let’s make pollution all washed up!
Now we understand a little more about ocean pollution and the impact of our plastic addiction, it’s time for a deep dive. Here are 105 ocean pollution facts and statistics that will really make a splash.
105 Marine and Ocean Pollution Facts And Statistics
Our ocean is in peril – let’s dive right into the facts and figures that reveal the cresting wave of our plastic catastrophe.
How Much Plastic is in Ocean?
Plastic consumption and pollution are a major contributor to climate change. Our ocean is taking the brunt of our plastic addiction – you’ll be shocked to learn how much plastic is in the ocean.
- It’s estimated that there’s 150 million tons of plastic in our ocean already.
- There are more pieces of microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way!
- Think about that the next time you stare up at the night’s sky…
- Every year, we’re adding another 8 million tons to this fast-growing total.
- Plastic is everywhere in the ocean. It has been found as deep as 11km beneath the surface.
- And every beach on earth is polluted by plastic waste.
- On average, every square mile of beach in the world is home to 5000 pieces of plastic!
- 70% of plastic in the ocean sinks.
- 15% of plastic in the ocean floats.
- And 15% of plastic pollution in the ocean washes up on our shores. So the plastic we find on our beaches is less than one sixth of all plastic pollution in the ocean!
- Currents in the Pacific Ocean have accumulated floating garbage together into a giant flotsam of around 1.6 million square kilometres.
- That’s an area almost twice the size of Texas made of trash.
Major Causes of Ocean & Marine Pollution Statistics
Plastic is all around us – a ubiquitous material in our daily lives. Yet it’s also wreaking havoc on our planet, polluting our world and contributing to climate change. Next time you’re in the supermarket, look around at all the plastic and remember: only 9%, less than one tenth, of plastic is recycled. The rest? It ends up in landfills or worse – our ocean.
- Globally, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic each year.
- It’s estimated that this will more than double by 2035 to 640 million tons!
- Tragically, over 90% of this plastic is never recycled and contributes to pollution on the planet.
- Half of all plastic pollution comes from single-use plastic. Briefly used and then thrown away to pollute our oceans.
- Just 1% of the one trillion plastic bags used annually are recycled.
- Wealthy countries such as the UK and the USA use the most plastic on a per capita basis.
- And hugely populous countries from China to India use the most plastic overall.
- Plastic pollution can be broken down into three categories: macroplastic, microplastics and nanoplastics.
- Microplastics are pieces of plastic under 5 mm in length and nanoplastics are tiny particles invisible to the human eye.
- Plastic takes over 1000 years to decompose, and before it’s gone it breaks down into micro- and nano- particles, wreaking havoc in our ocean.
- There are 5.25 trillion macro and microplastics in our ocean – and we don’t know how many nanoparticles might be proliferating.
- A trillion is a hard number to get your head around. 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic is about 750 billion pieces of plastic for every human on the planet. What’s your contribution?
- Ten rivers across the world carry 90% of plastic pollution to the ocean.
- Eight of these rivers are in Asia. The Yangtze River, in China, contributes to almost 1.5 million tons of ocean plastic pollution every year!
- 80% of the plastic in the ocean has travelled there since being discarded on land. Even if you live far from the sea, you can contribute to ocean plastic pollution!
- One garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute.
The Main Culprits In Ocean Pollution
- In the USA, we use 50 million plastic straws every day.
- There are 7.5 million plastic straws littered along the US coastline.
- Yet plastic straws make up less than 1% of ocean plastic. 7.5 million – a drop in the ocean!
- Single-use plastic straws are one of the top ten items found during coastal cleanup events.
- Every single second, 1500 plastic bottles are thrown away.
- Fewer than half of these are ever recycled. The rest are left to rot in landfills, or travel as trash into our ocean.
- As a result, in the United Kingdom, the average beach has 150 plastic bottles on it.
- A plastic bottle takes over 500 years to disintegrate in the ocean, turning into damaging microplastic and nanoplastic particles in the process.
- Across the world, more than a million plastic bags are used and discarded each minute.
- 10% of single-use plastic bags end up in the ocean.
- The average person uses 150 plastic bags each year – and so contributes to 15 plastic bags in the ocean.
- Plastic bags contribute to the death of 100,000 marine animals every year. A marine massacre.
- In the USA alone, over 300 billion plastic bags are discarded into the ocean every year.
- The average plastic bag is used for 12 minutes. It then takes 1000 years for it to decompose. Is it worth it?
- Even average household tasks can cause hidden damage. The average load of laundry releases 700,000 individual fibres of microfibres – these travel out the waste water pipes, towards the ocean.
Surprising Sources Of Pollution
Whilst plastic straws and single-use bottles are well-known culprits of ocean pollution, there are so many ways we impact the ocean every day. Learning about these gives you more opportunity to reduce your impact on the ocean.
- Wear on car tyres contributes almost half a million tons of plastic pollution to the environment every year.
- In the United Kingdom, that amounts to 68,000 tons – and about a third of that ends up in our oceans.
- If you’re trying to go green, driving less should already be on your radar. But cutting down on your road time can prevent ocean pollution, too!
- Oil spills are a clear source of ocean pollution – but actually, only 12% of oil in the ocean comes from spills.
- Most of it comes from drainage, shipping and dumping.
- Agricultural activities pollute the oceans with pesticides and herbicides, which seep out of the land into rivers, and drain into the sea.
- Radioactive pollutants can come from energy plants – and take thousands of years to break down in the ocean.
- And catastrophes like Chernobyl leak radioactive pollutants into the sky, which land in our oceans as rain.
- Although plastic is the main source of pollution, humans have created so many unnatural continents for our oceans.
What's The Ocean Pollution Impact On Marine Life
We all know that plastic is damaging our planet. From rising global temperatures to fossil fuel consumption, plastic is bad. But do we know the real life impact that plastic has on our beautiful marine life? Let’s step out of the abstract arguments about climate change, and see the true damage that plastic does to life in the ocean.
- Over 700 marine species have been affected by plastic contaminating their bodies and habitats.
- And over 250 species are being actively harmed by plastic in their lives.
- A third of marine mammals have been trapped in plastic debris. The quintessential image is a sea turtle with a six-pack of beer plastic packaging ensnaring them.
- Studies have discovered a third of sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs.
- And more than 90% of seabirds have eaten plastic. Because they cannot digest this, it’ll stay there forever.
- One in three seals have plastic in their stomachs.
- Deep sea surveys have revealed that 7 in 10 amphipods have plastic in their stomachs.
- You probably have microplastics in your stomach too!
- There is now hundreds of times more plastic in the ocean than plankton.
- Plastic in the ocean outweighs phytoplankton by a factor of six.
- And it outweighs zooplankton (animal plankton) by a factor of 50. For whales and other marine life that live off plankton, plastic can’t be avoided.
- Plastic is often mistaken for food as it floats in the ocean. 60% of whales have plastic in their stomachs. What would Jonah think?
- Plastic floating in the ocean blocks light from reaching marine species such as plankton, so they cannot grow.
- When plastic pollutes coral reefs, the reefs die 90% of the time.
- Coral reefs house around 25% of all life in the ocean. These are crucial, and fragile, habitats for so much marine life.
- And around half of all our coral reefs have died since 1980 due to plastic pollution and rising temperatures (caused, in part, by plastic consumption).
- One million seabirds die every year due to plastic pollution.
- But that’s just 1% of the 100 million marine animals that plastic kills in a year.
- 100,000 marine animal deaths are caused each year by plastic bags alone.
- Toxins found in plastic – such as BPA, PBA and PCB – have been linked to an increased prevalence of cancer.
- Plastic can also absorb further chemicals such as pesticides – and then leech these into the ocean as they’re discarded.
We’re not just running the ocean by dumping garbage into it. What we take out of our oceans also has a huge effect on the ecosystem. Ocean pollution and overfishing are interrelated catastrophes – a dual assault on our seas!
- Industrial fishing has contributed to around 10% of all plastic in our ocean.
- 52% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is from fishing lines, nets and traps.
- The population of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna has declined by over 97% since 1970.
- A single 600lb Bluefin can get a price of $3,000,000 on the open market. No wonder everybody wants to catch them – but is it worth destroying our ocean for?
- Ocean mammals such as dolphins and whales are essential to the growth of Phytoplankton in our ocean.
- These miniscule marine plants absorb more carbon dioxide than the Amazon rainforest and are crucial to slowing climate change.
- Yet thousands of dolphins are killed each year – for consumption, or use as bait in the shark fishing industry.
- As an apex predator, shark’s play a vital role in our ocean’s ecosystem.
- But the shark population is in sharp decline.
- Compared to 1970s populations, Thresher Sharks have declined by four fifths, Bull Sharks have declined by five sixths and there’s just 1% of the original population of Scalloped Hammerheads.
- Every year, 50 million sharks are killed as bycatch – that means they’re caught accidentally by commercial fishers. They’re killed and thrown back to the ocean.
- We think of oil spills as a great danger to our ocean – but in fact, fishing poses a greater threat.
- In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico actually allowed marine ecosystems to recover – because fishers were prevented from accessing the area of the spill!
- Industrial trawling sets up giant nets to scrape the ocean floor. These giant nets can fit skyscrapers inside them, and indiscriminately destroy life across the ocean.
- If you want to save our ocean, you can’t ignore the impact of industrial fishing. Fishing contributes heavily to ocean pollution, and takes an unsustainable toll on the ocean.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
If anything is a wakeup about marine pollution, it’s a floating patch of trash twice the size of Texas! Here are some shocking facts about this trash heap, that’s come to be known as “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
- The garbage patch can be found swirling in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Don’t go there for a holiday!
- This gyre is the congregation of several currents – the North Pacific, Kuroshio, North Equatorial, and the California.
- 80% of the trash here originated in North America and Asia – but a whopping 20% is from further afield.
- In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there are over 700,000 tons of fishing nets, demonstrating the industrial scale of the problem of waste in our ocean,
- Life is outnumbered by a factor of six by plastic in this part of the Pacific.
- Ocean gyres across the world collect trash – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of many patches across our oceans.
- And these great garbage patches only collect buoyant plastic. There’s an even bigger problem, sinking out of sight into the ocean’s depths.
Statistics For Change: How You Can Reduce Ocean Pollution
It’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst our ocean needs our help, there are many steps you can take to reduce your plastic footprint and protect the ocean’s thriving life.
- Replacing single-use water bottles with a reusable bottle can save 150 bottles a year.
- If every American did this, we could keep 750,000 tons of plastic out of the ocean.
- Single use plastic is being banned across Europe and North America, being replaced with sustainable options.
- A ban on single-use plastic bags in the United Kingdom has led four out of five people to use fewer bags than ever.
- In 2019, India banned single-use plastic on ships, further protecting our ocean.
- The highest rate of bottle recycling in the world is found in Norway.
- 92% of young Americans recycle as part of their lives. The youth are leading the way!
- Shopping ethically is part of the solution – but don’t trust DolphinSafe labels on tuna and other seafood.
- If you want to keep seafood in your diet, find small, independent fishmongers and ask about their supply chain!
- Talking to your friends and family about ocean pollution can cause a ripple effect. If you share this article with five people, and they each share it with five more, the impact grows and grows.
Our ocean contains infinite questions, it’s full of thriving life. And we’ve explored less of the ocean’s depths than we have of the moon’s surface. This incredible environment should be cherished and protected for the life and mysteries that it holds.
Once we recognize the scale of the damage that waste and plastic pollution is doing to our ocean, to everything from the largest whales to the smallest minnows, to seals and seabirds alike, we can start to make changes in our life to protect our seas.
By reducing your plastic consumption and educating your friends and families, we can protect our waters.
If these shocking statistics have made a splash, there’s an ocean of information out there to help you save our seas.
Make 2021 a cresting wave for reducing your plastic consumption. Cowabunga, dude!
Key Questions About Marine Pollution
What Is Causing All The Damage?
In a word: plastic. And especially single use plastic. The main culprits in marine pollution are single use plastic products. From bottles to bags, to ubiquitous plastic straws, these items often have a lifespan of just a few minutes, before they’re tossed into the trash where they spend hundreds of years decomposing.
Wherever we can eliminate single use plastic from our lives, we can help to save the ocean. With a reusable water bottle, you’ll make a difference with every drink.
What Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
In the northern Pacific Ocean, a series of currents have swirled together to collect millions of tons of trash into a floating landfill. This area, almost twice the size of Texas, contains thousands of tons of fishing nets as well as commercial refuse from North America and Japan. The patch is an indictment of our treatment of the ocean, although it is just one of many ocean trash patches collected in the sea’s gyres.
What Is The Impact of Plastic Pollution On Marine Life?
Our ocean is full of fragile ecosystems and once-thriving life. Now, 9 out of 10 seabirds and one in three seals have plastic in their stomachs, whilst half of all coral reefs have died since 1980. Hundreds of species are being endangered by our plastic addiction. In recent years, the damage has reached new depths – it’s time to break the cycle of marine pollution.
- 12 Plastic Pollution Facts That Show Why We Need To Do More. Retrieved from GlobalCitizen
- Ocean Plastic: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from EcoWatch
- Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Retrieved from National Geographic
- Face Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean. Retrieved from Earth Day
- Plastic Pollution – Facts and Figures. Retrieved from SAS UK
- The huge floating island of trash in the Pacific Ocean is now twice the size of Texas. Retrieved from Market Watch
- How Plastic Straws Affect the Ocean and Sea Turtles. Retrieved from GreenMatters
- Plastic straw ban? Cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean trash. Retrieved from NBCNews
- Seven charts that explain the plastic pollution problem. Retrieved from BBC