As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.
The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 million in donations to fund the project, including from Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will deploy 60 free-floating barriers in the Pacific Ocean by 2020.
She says understanding how plastic gets into fish matters not just to the fish, but to us. “We eat fish that eat plastic,” she says. “Are there things that transfer to the tissue? Does the plastic itself transfer to the tissue? Do the chemicals associated with the plastic transfer to the tissue?”
One surprise in their findings, Murawski said, was that the part of the gulf with the lowest diversity of fish species is the area of the gulf with the greatest number of offshore oil rigs.
“They’ve had 50 to 60 years of oil development there,” he said. “So that may be one of the at-risk areas” in case of a future oil spill. A disaster like Deepwater Horizon could more easily wipe out the fish living there to the point where they could not bounce back, he explained.
For decades, the U.S. military routinely dumped thousands of tons of obsolete, excess and captured munitions into U.S. coastal waters, thinking the high seas were the best place for the materials to safely decompose. The Atomic Energy Commission likewise oversaw the ocean dumping of untold thousands of drums of low-level radioactive waste from the nation’s manufacturing, research, medical and military sectors.
Around the world, coral reefs are facing trouble. Coral bleaching, due in part to rising ocean temperatures, has stressed reefs, leaving them weakened and susceptible to disease. Now, in Florida, scientists are struggling to combat a mysterious disease that’s threatening the future of the world’s third largest coral reef.