The ocean remains one of the most vast, mysterious and diverse places on our planet. But as we’ve learned, it’s vulnerable to something as simple as the human touch.

Every day our environment is being threatened by ocean pollution and, as you might expect, with this much trash in the ocean, marine life is suffering at an alarming rate.

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The numbers to support this? Flat out scary.

Ocean pollution affects more than 817 animal species around the world, a figure that has increased by 23% in the last 5 years alone. Plastic is one of the most common causes of ocean pollution, but it’s not the only thing harming our seas. There are several tangible steps you can take to help reduce ocean pollution today. Read on for more ocean pollution facts.


Causes of Ocean Pollution

The majority of the waste we produce on land eventually reaches the oceans, whether intentionally or not — and there are various ways by which this happens. For example:

  • Littering
  • Sewage
  • Ocean mining
  • Oil spills
  • Agricultural runoff
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Air pollutants
  • Maritime transportation


Effects of Ocean Pollution

  • Depletion of oxygen content in the water
  • Effect of toxic wastes on marine animals
  • Failure in the reproductive system of marine animals
  • Contamination of the food chain
  • Effect on human health
  • Disruption to the cycle of coral reefs

30 Ocean Pollution Facts

If you, I, and those around the world are to preserve our oceans, drastic measures have to be taken to combat this pollution.

Below are some astounding facts that demonstrate the size and severity of the issue, and why the solution relies on the small, everyday actions of individuals and business owners around the world – including you.

Fact 1: Plastics are the most common element found in the ocean today. Plastic, in particular, is harmful to the environment as it does not break down easily and is often mistaken as food by marine animals.

Fact 2: According to a study done by the University of Georgia, 18 billion pounds of plastic trash winds up in our oceans each year. To put that in perspective, it’s enough trash to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic…compounding every year.

Fact 3: The 5 most common items found in coastal cleanups around the world are all single-use plastics. They are: plastic cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, and plastic straws and drink stirrers.

Fact 4: There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.

Fact 5: 80% of trash in the ocean is from land-based sources, including individuals, industry and improper waste management/infrastructure. Only 20% is the result of ocean-based sources, such as the fishing, shipping, and cruise ship industries.

Fact 6: Plastics cause more than 80% of the negative effects on animals associated with ocean trash.

Fact 7: There is an island of garbage twice the size of Texas inside the Pacific Ocean: the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is the largest oceanic garbage site in the entire world. It’s here that the number of floating plastic pieces in the water outnumbers total marine life six to one in the immediate vicinity.

Fact 8: Ocean pollutions kills more than one million sea birds each year.

Fact 9: A recent survey found ocean pollution is more common in deep waters (more than 2,000 feet deep), with the most common offenders being plastic bags, metal cans, fishing equipment, glass bottles, shoes, and tires.

Fact 10: Research estimates anywhere from 15 to 51 trillion particles of floating micro plastic are in our oceans, weighing between 205-520 million pounds. This includes plastic microbeads (used as exfoliates in some personal care products) and synthetic fibers, both of which are too small to be filtered out by many waste water treatment plants.

Fact 11: Each year, billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants enter the ocean.

Fact 12: Approximately every square mile of ocean has more than 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.

Fact 13: There are dead zones in the oceans that have been created by pollution making life in those zones impossible for marine or plant life.

Fact 14: There are about 500 dead zones in the ocean, which covers a similar size to the United Kingdom.

Fact 15: Over 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic entanglement and ingestion.

Fact 16: Carbon emissions harm the oceans as well as the air. If our behavior continues as is, the surface water of the ocean could be 150% more acidic than it is now.

Fact 17: Not all sewage that enters the ocean is treated. 80% of sewage that flows into the Mediterranean Sea is untreated, which can lead to disease.

Fact 18: Oil spills only contribute to 12% of the oil in the ocean. 36% of the oil comes from runoff sources from cities and companies.

Fact 19: Ocean noise pollution is an issue, too. Ships, tankers, and shipping containers emit sounds like high-intensity sonar and air guns. This noise pollution injures fish, disrupts their habitats, and more.

Fact 20: Over one-third of the Atlantic ocean that shellfish live in is negatively impacted by pollution. This adversely affects the shellfish businesses on the East Coast.

Fact 21: It’s estimated that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).

Fact 22: Fish and other marine life often can’t tell the difference between plastic and food. If the animal eats plastic, they can’t digest it. The plastic fills their stomachs, so they starve to death.

Fact 23: Every year, about 1.5 million tons of nitrogen pollution flows into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River.

Fact 24: China and Indonesia are the world’s biggest contributors of plastic pollution in the ocean. Combined, they account for one-third of total ocean pollution.

Fact 25: Plastic makes its way to the depths of the ocean. Studies have found that crustaceans in the Marianas Trench, the ocean’s deepest point, have ingested plastic.

Fact 26: Approximately one truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute.

Fact 27: The waste in the ocean takes a long, long time to decompose. Styrofoam takes 80 years, aluminum takes 200 years, and plastic takes 400 years.

Fact 28: In some of the most heavily polluted sections of the ocean, plastic outweighs plankton by six times.

Fact 29: There’s enough plastic in the ocean to circle the Earth 400 times.

Fact 30: Chemicals in heavily polluted waters can make their way back to us and cause serious health issues like reproductive problems, hormonal problems, kidney damage, and nervous system damage.

Most Common Items Found in Ocean Pollution Clean-Ups

  1. Cigarettes and filters (32%)
  2. Food wrappers and containers (9%)
  3. Caps and lids (8%)
  4. Tableware (6%)
  5. Plastic bottles (6%)
  6. Plastic bags (5%)

What You Can Do to Prevent Further Ocean Pollution

By now you’ve hopefully realized this issue is much larger, and deserves more attention than just a blog read. With these ocean pollution facts in mind, I challenge you to do something about it today.

We’re all responsible for this mess, and it will take all of us to help clean it up.

Here’s how you can pitch in to reduce marine pollution:

  • Any time you see litter, regardless of what it is, pick it up and properly dispose of it.
  • Remember: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce your usage of single-use plastics. Reuse plastic packaging as many times as you can. Recycle rather than throw away.
  • Avoid products with excessive packaging.
  • Bring a reusable bag for shopping (i.e. grocery store, retail shops, etc.)
  • If you are to buy/use a product that contains a plastic “six-pack” holder, be sure to cut it before disposing of it. In the ocean, these rings expand, often times tangling or choking wildlife.
  • Educate those around you and don’t be afraid to talk trash to your friends and family. People can’t change what they don’t know about, so help spread the word.

Ocean pollution is just the tip of the iceberg. Learn about how Rubicon is working with organizations around the globe to transform how the world handles waste in their first annual ESG Report. And if you’re a business owner looking to spend less time on trash and more on your company, Rubicon’s Sustainability Reporting services may be right for you.

Drew Brucker is Senior Manager of Brand & Digital at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.