Something most of us are not aware of: An amazing amount of trash is dumped into the ocean. It comes from landfills and from cruise ships that throw their trash directly into the sea. The ocean is becoming more and more acidic, and a surprising amount of debris is being dumped in space too.

Outer space security has become an increasingly important problem recent years, since derelict satellites and parts that “got away” when they were being repaired are orbiting the earth. We need to pass some international laws to avoid collisions with space trash!

But the more immediate problem is right here on Earth: In the November 10th edition of the New York Times, Lindsey Hoshaw, writing from a Pacific cruise, describes seeing “light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice.” These infestations of trash double in size every 10 years and the one she is looking at is about the size of Texas. It is called a “gyre” and is constantly swirling in a whirlpool motion.And it’s more than just an eyesore: Toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDT can’t dissolve in water, but plastic trash absorbs them. Then the fish that feed on plankton eat the tiny plastic particles that are floating on the ocean surface. Big fish eat the smaller fish and thus these chemicals are passed up the food chain to us.

Ocean chemistry is changing because water absorbs extra carbon dioxide from the air. Up to half of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels over the past 200 years has been absorbed by the world’s oceans. In BBC News, Richard Black quotes researcher Hillary Benn as saying, “We know that the increasing concentration of CO2 [in the air] is making the oceans more acidic. It affects marine life, it affects coral, and that in turn could affect the amount of fish in the sea, and a billion people in the world depend on fish for their principal source of protein. It doesn’t get as much attention as the other problems; it is really important.”

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