More Waste than Fish in the Ocean?

by ao1sc on November 26, 2016 - 5:13pm

One of the planet’s largest ecosystems is brewing in controversy: is manmade pollution impacting the oceans?  Recent studies have shown that marine degradation is rapidly accelerating with thousands of tons of waste such as sewage, oil, chemicals, and mostly plastic, entering the oceans every day creating trash vortexes. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of all and spans from Japan to the West Coast of the United States. Its exceptionally large size has caught the attention of wild life experts, researchers, and even individuals, increasing the number of sustainable management projects yearly.

In USA Today, journalist T.J. Raphael (2016) wrote of 16 year-old Boyan Slat who discovered more plastic than fish while diving in the ocean, which triggered him to start a cleanup project. After six years of devotion to this project, he developed a system that may eliminate all the waste in the Great Pacific Garbage patch. This system is comprised of a ten feet non-permeable screen, equally five feet above and below the water line, which exploits the movement of waves to accumulate the waste naturally while mitigating negative impact on marine life. Not too long after developing this system, Slat founded an organization called The Ocean Cleanup, with the objective of eliminating all waste in the ocean using developing advanced technologies. He and his staffs estimates that 98% of the oceans’ waste can be collected and then recycled.

No one can deny that oceanic biomes are integral to our planetary system, yet as seen by the existence of trash vortexes, many humans irresponsibly misuse them. This may be because many think of these biomes as flow resources and therefore, perpetual or renewable. However, as we have learned in class, flow resources can become stock resources and must manage with greater care. It is usual for people to think that regulatory instrument can play a huge role for managing the environment because it can prevent and control the pollution by law; but in reality, this is very challenging because no nation wants to invest in cleaning up wastes that are a common occurrence and not in their domain (National Geographic, 2014). Therefore, Slat has gained respect by carrying out his words and raising public awareness. It indicates that individuals and organizations, who are perceived as less powerful, are in fact powerful. That said, I think that Slat’s project is not the only solution to removing waste from the oceans because not all waste can be caught in a 10 feet screen. Approximately 70% of waste actually sinks leaving surface waste to be largely comprised of small pieces of plastic called microplastic (National Geographic, 2014). Hence, I believe, other management strategies are critically needed.

As already explained, it is clear that the public can make a difference, and therefore, mixture of substantive instruments such as informational Instruments and voluntary Instruments can be applicable for this situation. The public can increase awareness by using the discursive powers of the media and education, and they can also use material power by implementing a project, starting a campaign, or perhaps establishing NGOs. The practice of dumping waste in the oceans over centuries has created this huge landfill in the ocean and it is certain that cleaning it up will be a long-term project. We must act on the power of correct information to be effective stewards of this planet.



National Geographic. (2014). Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

T.J. Raphael. (2016). Meet the guy trying to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.



Hello ao1sc,

Thank you for your insight into the issue of plastics and other material waste in our oceans. I took some time to read the original article and I found it quite inspiring that Mr. Slat, at only 22 years of age, has pioneered technology that aims to rid the ocean surface of material wastes. The task of cleaning up the world's oceans is a tall one, but it holds significant importance in regards to the overall health and well being of our planet. The protection of these delicate ecosystems, which cover over 70% of the Earth's surface and provide life to a vast amount of wildlife, is crucial.

I really appreciate that you pointed out the main problem facing a potential ocean cleanup initiative - the source of investment. As you mentioned, countries are reluctant to contribute funds to clean up an environmental problem that lies outside of their territory. It seems as though you think that interest conflict, which is based on differing opinions about who should benefit and who should pay, is the driving factor behind the reluctance of nations to contribute to a solution. I would have to agree with your assessment of the situation.

As we know, the four types of conflict (cognitive, value, interest and behavioural) are not mutually exclusive. Do you think that any of the three remaining types of conflict play a role in the reluctance of state actors to contribute technology, funds and effort to help curb the ocean pollution problem?


Hi ao1sc, thanks for sharing this to inform of such an exciting new technology! I think that this is great for projects that aim to collect and remove garbage that is already present in the oceans, however there needs to be mechanisms implemented that stop the waste from even entering the oceans in the first place to truly solve this environmental issue. I think the group of polluters that waste reduction programs should be focused on initially would be industrial corporations, as they contribute a significant amount of waste to our oceans relative to the daily lives of individuals or government organizations. It would be interesting to see something similar to a carbon cap and trade system implemented where incentives are offered for reduction of waste produced or an increase in the amount of reusable products or recycling. Regulations could be established that determine the amount of waste that can be created on a by weight basis, and could be relative to the amount of profit (or other criteria/combination of parameters) the company makes. Waste weight allocations could be traded amongst companies, as some high revenue corporations may produce significantly less waste than they are allotted, while some produce more.

Hi ao1sc,

I was drawn into your post from your intriguing title and topic. Issues relating to the oceans have been arising in the media recently and for that reason I thought it would be interesting to give your post a read and see what you have to present on this topic.

I’ll start off by saying that I really enjoyed reading your post. I like how you integrated course content in such a way to inform the readers about the issues related to this topic. I personally think that it is awesome that individuals, such as Slat, are rising up to the challenge of combating the problems we are seeing with the oceans being treated as landfills. I also found the facts stated in your post interesting and I think they complement your post nicely.
I think the one piece of information that I would have liked to see included in your post was to mention that there needs to be a better strive forward for preventing the oceans from being treated as landfills. I believe that governments need to step up and come up with a plan to work towards preventing the oceans from seeing so much trash being added to them. I realize that this is not going to be a small or simple task but it is something that needs to be pushed forward a bit better in my opinion. You briefly touch on this at the end of your post with how there needs to be more public awareness and education. I completely agree with you and hopefully we see more education and awareness being brought to the public’s attention in regards to this issue.

All the best,

Logan Mercier

Hello ao1sc great post. Rising issues regarding our earth’s oceans is such a prominent issue with current climate change and learning from our past practices is important for the oceans future health. I thought it was very interesting when you touched on the innovative technology arising in the hopes of decreasing the amount of plastic contained on the water body. Additionally, that factual points made such as seventy percent of the oceans waste sinks to the bottom of the ocean which I believe puts a proper image in the readers mind when imagining the severity and illusiveness of ocean waste.
Although one portion that could be better explored could be the portion of micro plastics. Micro plastics are very detrimental to ocean ecosystems on various levels and can be considered a waste through human consumption of cosmetic and chemical products. The fact that oceans have been treated as “landfill” like objects could be better expanded upon when referring to microplastics as they can be harmful to native species and ecosystem health. Microplastics are as well consistently consumed by native fish species proving detrimental to various species population health.
Finally, I thought it was very beneficial when you mentioned the demand for greater expansion of knowledge throughout the public. This will aid in educating a larger portion of the population in detrimental ocean practices. Ultimately I believe that governmental organizations must consider a more scientific resource management basis when determining mitigation and policy practices. This will also incorporate forms of conflict, as there are varying opinions throughout environmental decision-making and economic gain. Overall great post.

Hi ao1sc,

You have picked an interesting topic regarding ocean matters and I highly enjoyed reading your post. That being said, it is nice to see individuals finding ways to remove the garbage that’s currently in our oceans. You had a good point on how a major problem consists of investments and the lack of initiative people have to do something about the issue. Looking at the other spectrum, it is very difficult to cleanup all the garbage and mess that is in our waters, so systems need to be implemented and regulated to reduce this outcome for future occurrences. A suggestion I have for you would be targeting large corporations that are heavily polluting and work with them and the government to come up with mitigation strategies such as carbon taxes. This creates incentives on polluting less because the more you pollute, the more tax you pay.

All else, I completely agree with you on everything and all your points have logical answers. Good job!


This was a really interesting post to read about the tragedy of the commons. I found it especially shocking learning the scale of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, because I had never heard of it before. As you have stated, issues facing a common resource can often be overlooked due to the shared responsibilty and the unclear source of investment in remediation. Slat's ambition and dedication to a complex and far-reaching clean-up project is admirable. In addition, your application of your chosen article and our course content goes above and beyond, and shows excellent critical engagement.

Really well done!


Great post! I really liked your title, it is actually what made me choose your blog. I actually said "probably true" when I saw it, but I had to read it to see if it was true. I think you did a really thorough job explaining the article and the issue of improper waste disposal. However, do you think voluntary action through education and awareness is the best management practice? I think voluntary action in the sense of a tragedy of the commons situation of the ocean with regards to waste, should have more punishable and punitive actions taken to prevent people from dumping waste into large water bodies. Though, I guess it is very hard to record and identify where and who is dumping because of the tidal and oceanic currents. I think however there needs to be policies implemented by federal, provincial and municipal level governments to tackle the issue of improper waste disposal. Though, I think education and voluntary action are a great means of encouraging governmental bodies to take action I believe it should be through policy implementation that will help stop waste disposal in the ocean. Overall, your post was amazing!

Very interesting post. I very much enjoyed this topic because it is rarley discussed about littering in our oceans. I completely agree with you that reducing ocean litter starts with the public. Changing consumer behaviour through information instruments can target, and hopefully change, the way consumers think about littering or even the use of plastic. Regulations by governments must be put into place to help reduce the use of plastic. An example of this is France's ban of plastic forks, cups and plates. By targeting the main problem (plastic and its durable material) we can change society's over consumption of plastic and change to alternative materials, therefore reducing plastic in our oceans.

Hi ao1sc, I found your topic that you covered very interesting!
Although interesting, your post left me with the feeling of "what can I do to help?" as most environmental crisis situations do. I personally did not know much about the garbage patches till this semester, can you believe it? I have no idea how this flew under my radar for so long, especially when these garbage patches are so large and so dangerous. I think that there are a lot of people that are simply unaware of this issue and don't know much about it, for this reason I think we should look at the issue-awareness-cycle. In my opinion, the garbage patches must have gone through this cycle to end up where they are today, which I believe to be the pre-problem stage. I say the pre-problem stage because I don't think enough people are aware and alert! The first step is to get everyone talking about it and ultimately launching it into the alarmed discovery stage, and get people helping in whatever way they can. As a student, there is not a whole lot that I can do at this present moment but, I can use biodegradable plastic and tell everyone I know about these garbage patches. I've attached an article below that outlines some solutions everyone can take in order to change the fate of the oceans.

Hi ao1sc,

Great post on how manmade pollution is impacting the oceans because of the formation of garbage patches. I found this a very interesting topic as I have watched many documentaries in the past about the how garbage patches are formed due to ocean currents. It is interesting to see that there is now an increase in the number of sustainable management projects yearly. I’d also like to add to your post how even though the project has been created that can possibly eliminate all the waste in the Great Pacific Garbage patch that conflict of interest arises. As you have stated that because no nation wants to invest in cleaning up the wastes. I believe this is likely because it would not benefit their economy and most places thrive off having their economy do well, which in turn creates jobs. But the money required to clean the garbage patch may be more costly and unable to help nations’ economies. Since you have stated that people can raise awareness even if they are perceived as less powerful, do you think this is also the best way to attempt to help get more awareness to the public to help aid in the cleanup of the ocean garbage patch? Thanks for the great read!

First of all I would like to acknowledge that this was a very well written and comprehensive piece. Thank you for providing us with your insights regarding this situation. I chose to read this article because of the catchy title, and my own personal interest regarding plastic in the oceans and what can be done. As you mentioned there are many negative impact to marine life and in any situation this occurs it is in our best interest to act against it. It is very unfortunate that the situation has come this far and that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers such a vast expanse.

My curiosity regarding this issue has to do with legislation and policy that could hold people or companies more accountable for pollution like this. I understand it would be difficult to enforce due to the fact that it comes from so many sources. My idea is that companies who produce plastics which will end up in the ocean could pay something similar to a carbon tax, but I'll call it a pollution tax. This money could go into research to develop a solution to collect and properly dispose of the waste collected in the ocean. It could also go into direct clean up. Perhaps some of this "Pollution Tax" could be invested in educating audiences who may be identified to contribute more to this problem like; shipping companies, people living in coastal areas, plastic manufacturers etc.

Finally, for anyone interested in learning more, I have linked a video from a 3 part Vice series regarding garbage in the oceans. Excuse some of the profanity - we all know vice news - but it is quite a good program in my opinion.

Thanks again.

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