Countdown to Earth Day

April 15, 2004

Trash on a Cyprus beach. Photo credit: Greenpeace

“Next day we were sailing in slack winds through an ocean where the clear water on the surface was full of drifting black lumps of asphalt, seemingly never ending... The Atlantic was no longer blue but grey-green and opaque, covered with dots of oil ranging from pin-head size to the dimensions of the average sandwich. Plastic bottles floated among the waste. We might have been in a squalid city port... It became clear to all of us that mankind really was in the process of polluting its most vital well-spring, our planet’s indispensable filtration plant, the ocean.”

- Thor Heyerdahl, The Ra Expeditions

Heyerdahl’s quote says it all. The oceans once seemed so vast that it was inconceivable that mere human activities could ever be a threat. However, with a burgeoning world population and a lack of a feeling of ownership, our oceans have been turned into a planet-wide sewer. Cruise ships dump raw sewage directly into the oceans waters, as do many coastal cities. Industrial wastes, toxic organics, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals are detected in increasing concentrations in ocean waters from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Fishing fleets leave streams of debris in their wakes. In some parts of the Pacific, plastic bottles and bags form a floating layer that stretches from horizon to horizon.

We swim in polluted waters along many of our beaches, and the fish we consume dose us with toxic metals, pesticides, and other harmful organic compounds. And of course, like all environmental problems, the slow destruction of our oceans is entirely preventable.

Learn more about the challenges to our oceans and the things you can do to help at: