The Clean Sea Illusion – An Open Letter to Plastic Consumers

clean sea illusion
PHOTO by Nikky Wight // DESIGN by Becca A., Escape to Vava’u

By now, most of us have heard of that new study statistic floating around that states, “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish (by weight, according to a report done by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation) in the ocean”. Immediately, some of you quickly scroll right past this.

I get it – you’re scrolling past the ‘negative stuff’; normally, I would be right there with you. One can feel lost within all of the things seeming to go wrong in the world, and a simple scroll past can sometimes take away the loss-of-hope feeling one gets while reading such wreckage daily. But there are some issues rising in severity, and require us to stop scrolling and start informing ourselves (and others), as well as to begin to take it upon ourselves to find a solution.

You may not think that your actions and your voice make a difference; my goal for this post is to raise awareness, open up some eyes, spread the word, and provide solutions that any person can do to combat this expansive problem.

While I was living in LA, I really saw first-hand the destruction that humans are causing to the beaches/oceans. My stay in LA started in January of 2015, and ended in November 2015 – in May, disaster struck:

Photo via Fox 5 San Diego

The pipeline burst in Santa Barbara – this picture makes me want to do a mixture of crying and vomiting. Just look at it! I am sparing you all the photos of many, many oil-covered marine animals living their last seconds in the wakes of our poor decisions and greed. For months after, beaches around the area were also affected, including those in Venice, Malibu, and Santa Monica. Clumps of oil and trash were washing up on public and private beaches, leaving many tourists and locals speechless. To see this migration of oil from Santa Barbara to LA and Orange County beaches, click here.

I remember going to Venice with a friend one day shortly after this had happened, and as we walked on the shore, oil would seep through the sand and stain our feet. I had never seen pollution like this first hand, but little did I know that this was only the tip of the iceberg.

This caused me to do research on current ocean pollution; the results I found were shocking. But before we dive into that, let’s talk about how it all got started –

D I R T Y  B E G I N N I N G S

It’s safe to assume that since the start of time, we have been polluting the ocean in one form or another (typically by jumping waste or remains, coal extraction and burning, mercury exposure, etc.). We really didn’t do this on a larger scale until the Industrial Revolution, according to historians. Most of the factories were located near water for easy navigation and transportation- until the 20th century, most believed that dumping harmful waste into the ocean was okay because it was assumed that the ocean had unlimited diluting abilities. Hint, it doesn’t. This dumping of factory waste and toxins began the mass human pollution of the ocean, that is, until plastic came along.

“Cellulose acetate was introduced as a molding compound in 1927. The period 1930-1940 saw the initial commercial development of today’s major thermoplastics: polyvinyl chloride, low density polyethylene, polystyrene, and polymethyl methacrylate. The advent of World War II in 1939 brought plastics into great demand, largely as substitutes for materials in short supply, such as natural rubber. In the United States, the crash program leading to large-scale production of synthetic rubbers resulted in extensive research into the chemistry of polymer formation and, eventually, to the development of more plastic materials.” –

And there we have it: the beginning of one of the largest grossing industries per year, the same industries that are causing the decline in the ocean’s well being. Below is a Plastics Propaganda informational video from 1944:

“If they are man-made, why bother making them at all unless they improve nature’s handiwork…”

How eerie.

When the plastics industries were gaining in popularity, it was truly amazing how essentially anything could be made out of this material, and how quickly it became the ultimate solution for everyday American life. Before we knew it, plastic was everywhere: dining wares, in cars, wrapped around our food, holding our beverages, in building materials, and infinitely more. The future was looking great, but there were some things that weren’t known/shared about this wondrous material.

Plastic is the most common element that is found in the ocean, and it does not break down completely. Almost every piece of plastic ever made on Earth is still somewhere on its surface.

When you’re done with your single-use plastic item, what do you do with it? Throw it away! But here’s the million dollar question: where is ‘away’, and why do we have such a distorted view on where our trash really goes?

T O D A Y ‘ S  O C E A N S


This is what we think of when we picture our oceans today. In Vava’u, Tonga, this is one of the many remote islands that make up the island group. Regardless of how far away from mass industry and population, pollution washes up even in the most unoccupied coasts. The ocean is becoming more toxic everyday because of land runoff, ship pollution, atmospheric pollution, deep sea mining, and more.

Yes, there are still beautiful spots like this on our planet, but they are becoming more polluted every day. Let’s take a look at some statistics and facts that will (hopefully) make you realize the severity of this issue:

According to California Watch, plastic pollution in the ocean is likely extremely underestimated. Scientists are believed to have only skimmed the surface; the more they research, the more discouraging the findings are. It has been discovered that ocean processes (wind, current, turbulence, and wave height) can push plastic particles deeper down into the depths of the ocean, thus giving us a large gap in amount estimates.

Fact #1 – in almost every tow (capture of water) made by researchers, there were plastic remains found – regardless of depth.

That is utterly repulsing. Here is a photo of a sample taken near one of five garbage patches throughout the world’s oceans:


Fact #2 – There are many island nations that are forced to live in our disposables.

Remember when I said that plastic washes up to even the most remote places on Earth? They are also wrecking major havoc on coastal living around the globe. Let that sink in: many small countries who do not contribute to the manufacturing or purchasing of these harmful products are often the ones facing its destruction.

pollution problem in third world country

“Pollution as we’ve been studying since 1st grade is destroying our environment and our place of habitat, still nobody seems to be bothered enough, at least none of the industrialized countries with their nuclear toxic power plants seem to be. Air, water or earth pollution is threatening the lives of, not only people in the third world; but everyone on this planet.” –

I hope this bothers you.

Fact #3 – Over one million sea birds, 300,000 dolphins and porpoises, and 100,000 sea mammals are killed each year by mistaking plastics for food, for entangling themselves in discarded fishing nets/line, and etc. pollution.

Okay, so remember how I said we would avoid the oil-covered animals? Well…this isn’t much better, but I believe that this image really represents the severity of this global issue:


Scientists, beach combers, and anti-litter bugs alike are discovering that many marine animals are actually mistaking plastic for food, and consuming it. Many of these animals die and are discovered to still be holding their plastic snacks in their stomachs – undigested. Apparently, this is an ‘average’ amount of plastic found in marine animals as of 2014. Studies have shown that toxic materials can destroy the biochemistry, behavior, reproduction, and growth in marine life.

Fact #4 – Coral reefs all over the world are being destroyed and left as graveyards.


“There are two different ways in which humans have contributed to the degradation of the Earth’s coral reefs, indirectly and directly. Indirectly, we have destroyed their environment. Coral reefs can live only in very clear water. The large population centers near coasts has led to silting of reefs, pollution by nutrients that lead to algal growth that smothers the coral, and over fishing that has led to increase in number of predators that eat corals.” –

There are many factors that go into the destruction of the coral reefs around the world, such as dynamite fishing, careless tourism, boat dumping, discarding of fishing nets and lines, reef bleaching, water toxicity, sedimentation, and many more.

Current research has shown that there are efforts being made to replace dead reefs with artificial plant life (among other ideas). Whatever opinions you have on these efforts, there’s no denying that this is a real problem.

Fact #5 – Until the 1970’s, radioactive waste and other waste alike were freely being dumped into the ocean. Today, sewage water all over the world is still being discharged into the ocean waters.

PHOTO by California Diver

This is some evidence of casual dumping up until the 70’s: a ‘treaded mess’ indeed. Also, this was an effort to provide artificial reefs off the coast of Florida that backfired tremendously. This reef is compromised of over two million tires

So you may be wondering, “what does any of this have to do with me, I don’t live near the ocean”. Sigh, the ocean provides for us and gives us life; for some reason, some still have yet to take notice.

T H E  O C E A N  &  U S

PHOTO by Rich West // Two at Sea

There’s no argument: our relationship to the ocean is vital to our survival. Without the ocean, we would not be here. Plain and simple. Here is a nice list of great things we receive from the ocean, making life easier:

  • Climate regulation
  • Aquaculture/food
  • Economy (fishing, seafood distribution, tourism, recreation, & transportation)
  • Medicine (marine plant & animal sources provide health benefits)
  • OXYGEN (70% of all the oxygen for Earth comes from the ocean plants)
  • Clean energy (ocean thermal energy conversion/OTEC, wave power, hydroelectric, etc)
  • Clean drinking water (desalination by OTEC)
  • Air conditioning (using cold, deep sea water reduces electricity usage by 90%)
  • Employment (est. 1 in 6 jobs in the US are marine-related)

Wow! Thanks, ocean. How do we repay the favors? By choking her on these:

  • Oil spills – an estimated 706 million gallons of oil are leaked from ships, washed from the land, or by busted pipelines
  • Toxic chemicals – many have been implicated in cancer, developmental problems, and others
  • Land-based pollutants – waste originating on land makes up for 80% of all marine debris, such as pesticides, plastics, etc.
  • Energy consumption – burning of coals is 50% of the US’s energy use; this releases toxic mercury and is consumed by fish
  • Pharmaceuticals – US hospitals and long-term care alone flush millions of pounds of medications and concoctions annually down the drain
  • Fishing supplies – discarded nets and lines are strangling many marine life, and are found in trash clumps all over the world

Essentially, we are making products that only have single-uses out of chemicals that harm anything it comes in contact with and tossing them away to rot wherever. Instead of disintegrating, these plastic items only break into smaller pieces. They soak up other toxins and float until they are consumed by other marine life. We then catch the fish using extremely destructive methods, and consume the exact toxins that we originally threw away.

It all goes full circle, and without really giving it any thought, we are contaminating ourselves.

Now that we know how horrible we have been, most of us feel this urge to get up and do something. Unfortunately, it is predicted by most researchers and scientists that we are a long way from seeing the ocean pollution-less. It is also estimated that any mass cleaning system would cost too much and would be too difficult to complete. The question still remains: what do we do?

E F F O R T S  &  H O W  T O  H E L P

It is speculated that the only way to really heal the ocean is to stop the production of plastic completely, and allow the remaining pollution to be wash up in coastal areas to be cleaned off and properly disposed of. Easier said than done – according to NY Times, changing the way we produce and consume plastic is a challenge greater than reining in our production of carbon dioxide.

That is, until this has came to light:

A big challenge? Yes, but it isn’t impossible. Victory is achieved through a series of small steps taken by many people! Just remember that the plastics industry does not acknowledge any negative affects from their products, and refuses to comment/take responsibility for the destruction of our oceans, its creatures, and our health. They are making billions, by the way.

To answer ‘how we can help’, here are a few options that anyone can do to contribute to the cause –

  1. Donate. This is an easy way to show support for the fight; giving money to those who have a voice will further enable them to do what they do to fight plastic production, such as make documentaries, host rallies/showings, have a mass cleanup, etc. Funding is always needed, and it is great for those who can’t make it to the events themselves but would still like to help! Here are a few of our favorites: The Ocean CleanupOcean ConservancySave Our ShoresGyre Cleanup, & Project Aware.
  2. Hemp. It is rumored that the reason for cannabis/hemp being illegal is because of the fact that it would put plastic companies completely out of business. What better way to protect your profit by making that substance illegal! Click the title ‘hemp’ to watch a great YouTube video about the many solutions hemp has to offer.
  3. Ban single-use plastic bags. Follow in California’s footsteps and ban single-use plastic bags! Sign petitions, join campaigns – anything you can to further push the alternative uses of plastic bags. Our goal is not to just make them ‘not allowed’, but to find alternatives to make plastic bags no longer needed. Eventually, we can move to banning all single-use plastic production!
  4. Clean up your community. If you’re near a beach, I suggest checking out 2 Minute Beach Clean! It’s a great way to pick up some extra trash, and every little bit counts! You can share your pollution pictures with them on Instagram or Twitter. If you aren’t near a beach, pick up trash near rivers, fields, or your neighborhood parks. A large portion of pollution in the ocean is land-originated items! If everyone would take just 10 minutes to do this each day, we could really make an impact.
  5. Change your lifestyle. Lead by example! You can do this by reducing your carbon footprint/reducing energy consumption, make safe seafood choices, try to eliminate your plastic use, travel the ocean responsibly, and overall try to find natural alternatives to everyday items.

I N  C O N C L U S I O N

When will it be too late? When will be the point of no return? These are questions that we do not have the answers to; but we do know that we can do many things to start the reverse process. By taking some time out of your day, you can help be the change! This isn’t meant to be a tacky rally-post, but more of a ‘I’m so fed up and I need to share, because this is getting ridiculous’ kind of post. We live in a country that still DENIES this – imagine that. But, we as people have the power to take a stand against ocean pollution, starting with the tips listed above.

Share with a friend, follow us on Instagram, and raise awareness in your local community! In the comments below, share what changes you will make to help fight The Clean Sea Illusion –

E N D        ∇



Other sources: Leisure Pro | Sustainable Brands | First American Plastic | Wikipedia | National Geographic | Sea Web



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