04 January 2011

The ocean's top 25 deadliest pollution predators (part one)

Passively surveying the depths of the sea from a shrouded perch, they lie in wait…anticipating the precise moment when they should tempt their intended prey with delectably deadly faux food. Even when fully consumed, these daredevil predators will never fully cease to exist. So gullible, so easy to dupe -- ravenous marine fauna are the ideal candidates to fall hook, line and sinker for ocean bound post consumer waste. Each pulsing underwater current and shimmering ray of light showcases the deceptively appetizing nature of society’s endlessly cast aside plastic and metallic objects to such a degree that they are gamely slurped up by whales, sea turtles, seals, and marine birds (**especially albatross**) not to mention countless other hungry ocean creatures.

Seattle marine debris expert and oceanographer Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer says that if allowed to sit for an extended period of time in the ocean, one pound of plastic will slowly but surely be transformed into 100,000 small pieces of plastic due to a combination of wave activity and ultraviolet light. Scientists believe that 100 million sea creatures -- including a combination of one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles -- die annually from this foreign and highly toxic diet. Among the most troubling materials that they ingest are bisphenol A (BPA), styrene trimer and PS, all of which compromise hormone function and trigger reproductive issues. It turns out that in terms of health consequences, humans aren't the only ones who are negatively effected by our passion for plastic.

Please take a look at the following list of notorious ocean bound assassins and then seriously consider what you can personally do to curb the amount of waste your household generates (as well as how to ramp up your recycling efforts). While banishing plastic altogether is the most ideal solution, it may be quite some time until that goal actually becomes a mainstream reality. In the meantime, we all have a responsibility as planetary citizens to successfully turn the tide, and there's no better time to jump start our own personal efforts than today -- wouldn't you agree?

Aluminum Foil and Cans

As materials go, aluminum can exist for as long as 200 to 500 years, with aluminum foil lids/pie plates lasting up to 10 years and foil wrap lingering for roughly 5 years before breaking down into smaller bits. When human beings carelessly fling this notoriously recyclable material during their boating excursions or while lounging on beaches (rather than plunking it into a recycling container), hungry sea creatures end up ingesting it and suffering from internal lacerations while other less fortunate critters experience full-on obstructions that ultimately lead to starvation and finally death.


Released into the air to mark festive occasions, balloons are also used by fishermen as “bobbers” so they know when they’ve secured a fish on their line. In both cases, far too many people seem to forget about cleaning up any deflated latex remnants they can recover at the end of the day. This might explain why there has been 260% increase in Atlantic shore balloon pollution, according to the Marine Conservation Society. Deflated rubber balloons with ribbons still attached have also been found twisted around seabirds’ beaks and blocking the digestive tracts of marine creatures such as sharks, loggerhead turtles and dolphins.


Of the 3 billion one-time-use batteries that Americans purchase each year, approximately 179,000 tons enter our landfills and then many of them move on to live out a water-bound existence. Discharging highly toxic metal pollution into our sea -- including mercury, cadmium and lead – they are believed to have a lifespan of thousands upon thousands of years.

Beverage Bottles

As with many of their plastic cousins, these ubiquitous containers -- commonly made out of PETE Polyethylene Terephthalate -- are created by mixing crude oil-extracted hydrocarbons with chemical catalysts. With approximately 2 million used by thirsty American consumers every 5 minutes, it would behoove us to responsibly recycle them, but research studies have found that less than 10% of them actually are. The rest of them end up wallowing away in landfills and the sea where they release a toxic chemical cocktail that penetrates the flesh of marine animals, ultimately affecting humans via the food chain.

Bottle Caps

Made out of Polypropylene (PP) plastic, these colorful circular mechanisms are sadly among the top favored snacks of sea birds along with disposable lighters, toys, plastic tubing, etc. Once consumed, they almost always give wildlife a one way ticket to swimming with the fishes, if you catch my drift.

Cargo Ship Castaways

Unexpected storms are the main source of blame for the 10,000+ shipping containers that are lost at sea annually, spilling forth everything from Nike sneakers, thousands of bags of Doritos brand tortilla chips, computer monitors and assorted parts to hockey gloves, millions upon millions of plastic Legos, and even rubber ducks and countless other assorted toys.

Cigarette Butts

Containing a toxic blend of soluble chemicals that can leach out into the water within one hour of contact, cigarette butts are biodegradable, but some scientists have found that discarded cellulose acetate filters can take an estimated 36+ months to fully break down. Imagine what they do inside the digestive system of a marine creature.


Commonly made out of natural latex rubber, once condoms are erroneously flushed down the toilet, they take a long adventurous trek from the local sewer system all the way to the ocean. It is there that they join the ranks of other malleable yet hardly edible marine-based doppelgangers that get ingested, causing serious obstruction, starvation and - yup, you guessed it -- death.

Dental Floss

Teflon and/or polyethylene filaments may help us to engage in diligent oral hygiene, but once used, the long white strands truly belong in the trash can rather than in the toilet. Unfortunately, people continue to flush their used floss, where it not surprisingly drifts off into the ocean and is ingested or simply just strangles marine life.


Part two of this positively riveting piece will be available tomorrow, so be sure to pencil a little time in your schedule to check back :)

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/exalthim