It’s much harder to track the effects of the tens of thousands of chemicals that are dumped in the ocean every day, through sewage, agricultural runoff, and industrial waste—most of which have unknown effects on wild ecosystems. What we do know is that the bodies of marine animals act like magnets for these toxics, which accumulate in their fat and are amplified up the food chain.
At a time when our 24 hour news cycle broadcasts little joy, the enthusiasm of the volunteers who came to do nothing but pick up other people’s trash and garbage, shed a certain kind of light to blot out all the negative headlines of the day. At our locale, most volunteers were locals— some partnered with a friend or family, and some represented local groups. Visitors from Livermore and San Jose, (both cities about 200 miles north of San Simeon) also joined in the effort to keep our wastes from slipping into the Pacific Ocean.
And our planet’s modifier is in trouble. It’s a Neptune 911 crisis. What can we do to combat our ocean’s struggle with marine debris, hypoxia and acidification? The answers are found in university labs, recognized in world organizations, and ignored by feckless politicians and leaders.
Thousands upon thousands of volunteers combed coastal regions and waterways on International Coastal Cleanup Day for trash and waste removal. These photos by Charmaine Coimbra were taken at Estero Bluffs State Park, with volunteers from the Cayucos Land Conservancy in cooperation with the local coordinating agency, ECOSLO.
Researchers have more than once warned of “dead zones” and toxic algal blooms as a consequence of changing climatic conditions. Ocean temperatures are increasing, and this in turn encourages a new set of biochemical processes.
Professor Hollibaugh and a colleague report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that over the course of eight summers they measured peaks of nitrite, alongside massive increases in the numbers of the microorganisms that produce it, in coastal waters off Georgia.
The amphipods were contaminated with PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — toxic chemicals used for decades in industry, as well as other industrial pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants.
“Every sample we had,” Jamieson says, “had contaminants in it at very high or extraordinarily high levels.”
The gulf dead zone is only one piece of a larger, environmental problem with U.S. agriculture and watershed issues, however. The gulf just happens to be one of the areas where effects of agricultural practices and pollution are more visible. These kind of problems, though, are far reaching, effect the whole country and are heavily tied to government and industry.