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Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Oceans of Trash

litter on beach   Seaborne plastic debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in Papahanaumokuskea Marine National Monument in the Pacific. Marine debris — almost none of it locally generated — is a global problem threatening wildlife. Photo by Susan White/USFWS

Lots of the trash we toss on land doesn’t stay there. Each year, rivers and storm sewers carry millions of tons of it to the sea, where it joins a swirling mass known as marine debris. Abandoned boats and fishing nets add to the menace.

Even in the world’s most remote places, marine debris kills and injures wildlife. You may have seen the photos from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific, where albatross skim up bright plastic bits from the ocean surface and feed them to their chicks. The young birds starve, their stomachs filled with scrap.

Marine debris puts human health at risk, too. Plastics have entered the human food chain, through the water we drink and the fish we eat. The impact on human health is not yet full known.

cleanup crew on mound of trash on beach   A cleanup crew celebrates the removal of derelict nets from the northwest Hawaiian islands. Photo by NOAA

But we can do something about the problem. Some would argue we have to. Making a real dent in the problem requires action by all of us.

A photo essay from the National Wildlife Refuge System looks at efforts to address the problem and some of the things big and small we can do to help.

Among these: Join or lead a cleanup. Avoid excess packaging. Use cloth bags instead of plastic bags. Dispose of waste responsibly. Spread the word. Read more in the story.

 Look for a new online story about your national wildlife refuges every Wednesday on the Refuge System home page.

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

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