Intro Recently, Typhoon Vincent knocked cartons into the sea off the coast of Hong Kong. The cartons were filled with bags of small plastic pellets that are now spread far and wide across Hong Kong's beaches. The pellets themselves are non-toxic, but they are prone to absorbing toxins from the surrounding environment. If they are eaten by fish after they've absorbed toxins, the fish's flesh will become toxic as well. Once this happens it's a short jump to us consuming the now-toxic fish. Complex interactions like this are common in nature, but often overlooked by the media. Fish eating our discarded or spilled trash largely goes unnoticed, but it can have dire effects on many populations of humans and animals. We need to pay attention to all the ways and places where this trash leaves our hands and enters the ecosystem.
Gatahan, Malaysia The beaches of Gatahan in Malaysia would be a far more beautiful sight without the plastics. One good storm and these will wash out and join their bretheren in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Bottles like these were made from the plastic pellets currently sitting on the beaches of Hong Kong.
London Olympics Now, at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the beaches of England are crowded with spectators. Their trash, if not properly disposed of, could easily end up in the English Channel or be washed out to sea.
English Beaches Outside of the Olympics, other English beaches are experiencing events. Here, the Relentless Boardmasters pro-surfing competition is only part of a five-day surf-skate and music festival. Any rubbish left behind could easily spread to the surrounding waterways.
VIDEO: What's an Ocean Garbage Patch?
California It's not as easy as "don't be a litterbug." Here in California, a popular surfing destination, trash has piled up on a beach due to storms and swollen seas. The ocean swells will pull any trash left on the beach, but as mudslides often pull trash from other parts of the coastline, it's not just the beaches that can affect the oceans.
HOWSTUFFWORKS: The Pacific Garbage Patch Explained
"Turtle Sanctuary" Our Editor-in-Chief snapped this photo in Aruba. She writes on her blog,"At the top of the steps leading down to this 'sanctuary' was a poster talking about the importance of beaches like these in the Arikok National Park to breeding sea turtles." "When I went down to the beach, I found a headless doll, plastic bottles, flip-flops, a sneaker -- it was a joke how much garbage was there."
NEWS: Pacific Plastic Soup 100-fold Increase
Goa, India It's not just the West where trash can collect on the beaches. Here a beach in Goa, India, garbage and litter from plastic and glass lie entangled in vegetation. If washed into the ocean, the glass will eventually break down and return to sand, but the plastic will live for hundreds of thousands of years, likely finding its way to the "Great Pacific Patch."
ANALYSIS: Recycled Island to Be Built from Ocean Garbage Patch
Isle of Skye Trash dropped from one beach can find its way to other, more visible places than the Pacific Garbage Patch. Here, a beach on the Isle of Skye in Scotland is covered in trash that washed ashore.
ANALYSIS: Antarctic Garbage Patch Coming?
Hidden Trash Even if we attempt to dispose of our trash "properly" we can still affect the world's oceans. Plastic bags concealed in an old landfill are revealed as the edge is eroded away. This island in the United Kingdom will eventually begin to lose its long-hidden trash into the sea. Then, as sea levels rise around the world and weather becomes stormier, many areas with landfills near the water will do the same as they experience greater rates of coastal erosion.
ANALYSIS: Garbage Drone Could Clean Up Oceans
Passing on the Trash This small island in the Philippines is an attractive island, but it doesn't keep it from accumulating trash. If the residents of Hong Kong fail to clean the pellets from their beaches, the Olympic crowds toss their trash in the wrong place, or a storm washes plastic into the seas off California, eventually it will end up tainting these pristine beaches. If we're not careful, instead of digging for coins and enjoying a days catch on a beach vacation, we'll be digging for old water bottles and eating a fish that consumed those pellets.
Now that summer is here, a trip to the shore should bring familiar smells: seawater, sunscreen and, depending on your beach of choice, sewage.
One in 10 recreational beaches in the United States isn't fit for swimming, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
"Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip," Jon Devine, a senior attorney for NRDC, said in a statement. "But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick." [7 Common Summer Health Concerns]
The NRDC released its annual water-quality report card this week based on samples collected last year from 3,485 U.S. beaches along the coasts and in the Great Lakes region. The environmental group found that more than 10 percent of the shores sampled failed to meet new federal recommendations for safe swimming.
The NRDC measured its samples against the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "Beach Action Value," or BVA, a new threshold for counts of bacteria like E. coli in water samples, which can be an indication of the presence of feces. The BVA is more of a recommendation than a federally mandated standard, and it's more conservative than previous safety thresholds. Had they been held up to the old benchmarks, only 7 percent of the beaches sampled in 2013 would have been deemed too dirty, which is similar to the rate of failure the NRDC has recorded in previous years.
Beaches in the Great Lakes region had the highest failure rate (13 percent), followed by the Gulf Coast (12 percent) and New England (11 percent). The Delmarva Peninsula on the East Coast had the cleanest beaches overall, with just 4 percent of samples failing the safety test. The West Coast (9 percent), the Southeast (7 percent), and the New York and New Jersey region (7 percent) were in the middle of the pack.
Ohio was ranked the worst state to go swimming. Of the 63 coastal beaches in the state, 47 had more than 20 percent of their water quality samples fail to meet the BAV benchmark, according to the NRDC. Delaware, on the other hand, ranked highest in beach quality.
Water pollution can be caused by a variety of sources, including stormwater runoff, sewage overflows, inadequately treated sewage, boating waste and agricultural runoff. Besides the ick factor, there are real health concerns that come with splashing around in contaminated water. Sewage can expose people to disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoans, meaning swimmers can pick up waterborne illnesses such as stomach flu, skin rashes, pink eye, dysentery, respiratory ailments and hepatitis, according to the NRDC.
In releasing the new report, NRDC officials also threw their support behind the EPA's proposed Clean Water Protection Rule, which is currently open for public comment and would clarify that federal protections for clean water extend to seasonal streams and wetlands.
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