Think Before You Toss

By Tom Damm

Aside from the occasional crew mate whose stomach can’t handle the high waves, there’s one sight that’s particularly troubling to EPA researchers sampling our coastal waters – garbage and other man-made debris bobbing along in the current.

Marine debris

Credit: Ocean Conservancy

Renee Searfoss, the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Ocean and Dredge Disposal Team Lead, says marine debris – plastic bags, bottles, cans and other items – presents a real problem.  It can have impacts on health, the environment – even our economy, but it takes a special toll on marine life.

Marine life such as turtles and birds – and the fish we catch and eat – mistake this trash for food.  They ingest the debris and it impacts their digestive systems.

Renee says her teams have picked up very tiny pieces of debris, which can pose more of a threat to marine species than larger ones since they’re easier to ingest and cause a slow death or allow toxins to build in the animals’ systems.

Most of this harmful trash begins its journey on land and enters the ocean through our local streams and rivers.  You can help ease the problem by properly disposing of trash and by recycling plastic bottles, bags and cans.

In a new EPA video filmed on the water, Renee says, “There aren’t a lot of creatures out here that can really defend against anything we throw in the oceans at them.”

June is National Oceans Month – a time to be especially aware of how and where we toss our garbage.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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