By Jody Sackett, Borough of Rumson, NJ – Environmental Commission
There are few things more priceless than our oceans, which cover over 70% of the earth’s surface and produce over half of the world’s oxygen. Next time you breathe, thank the ocean phytoplankton and algae. We use the oceans for shipping and recreation, jobs, food, medicine, energy, and minerals. Plus the oceans absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted, which helps regulate climate and weather. Let’s all celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8 by learning more about this precious resource.
Are the Oceans Threatened? Yes. Climate change impacts our oceans; absorbing this carbon dioxide makes oceans more acidic, and the water unfortunately holds on to the increasing atmospheric heat. This hurts marine life, affecting resource availability, living conditions, and biodiversity. Pollution from stormwater runoff and other industrial or wastewater discharges threatens water quality. And excessive use of plastics results in overwhelming amounts of long-lasting plastic trash and microplastics that impair marine life.
Are plastics an Issue? Plastics are an incredibly useful invention that are vital for medical, industrial, and everyday applications. However, they are ubiquitous in our environment now due to our use of disposable plastics. They’re found on every continent and in every ocean. Single-use plastics like water bottles, takeout containers, cups, wrappers, and bags frequently end up as trash on our beaches or floating across the oceans. Plastic trash washes into our waterways via stormwater runoff, and rivers carry these plastics into our oceans, where they drift for decades or centuries before decomposing. Plastics break down into hundreds of tiny long-lived microplastic bits during this process, which disperse worldwide. Marine life gets entangled in plastics or accidentally ingests them, causing harm.
Is Stormwater Runoff a Problem? Yes. Also known as non-point source pollution, stormwater runoff transports land pollutants directly into our streams and ultimately our oceans. When rain falls it percolates down through the soil to hydrate plants or replenish the groundwater. But sometimes during storms, it rains so hard that the ground cannot absorb it all, especially if the ground is impervious because of pavement or hard-packed soil. The stormwater then runs off the land, where it picks up pollutants that are washed directly into stormwater drains, ending up in our local waterways and oceans.
How Do Our Local Neighborhoods Affect the Ocean? Homeowners or landscapers apply fertilizers to lawns, and rain can wash off this phosphorus and nitrogen into storm drains, contributing excessive nutrients to local waterways. These nutrients can cause algal blooms that use up oxygen resulting in fish kills and increased jellyfish populations. Stormwater also carries poisons from weed and bug killers, as well as litter, plastics, and oil and gas from parking lots and neighborhood streets; these substances can devastate marine life. Pet waste absorbed by this rainfall brings more excessive nutrients, bacteria, and viruses to our waterways. Even loose dirt from construction sites or bare ground causes problems; it results in sediment-clouded water that harms fish by interfering with finding food and clogging their gills. These impacts are not just from one neighborhood, but from hundreds of neighborhoods within the watershed, so the cumulative effect is enormously detrimental.
What’s a Watershed? We all live within a specific watershed. This is simply a designated land area like a drainage basin, that channels all rain falling within it into a specific body of water like a river, lake, or ocean. Watersheds are delineated by surrounding mountains or ridges; gravity pulls the rain downward from these peaks into the waterways. Our nearby peninsula watersheds are the Shrewsbury River watershed and the Navesink River watershed.
What’s Your Watershed Address? Go to Surf Your Watershed and see exactly what watershed you live in. Then you’ll know what exactly waterway your neighborhood stormwater drains into.
How Can I Help?
- To reduce pollutants and nutrients, avoid the use of household fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and always pick up your pet waste.
- Install Green Infrastructure like rain gardens around your home or local parks to capture rainfall where it lands, preventing stormwater runoff.
- Plant NJ native plants which evolved to thrive in our local climate; their roots stabilize soils and they are hardy so they don’t need extra fertilizer, pest control, or irrigation.
- Go plogging when you walk and adopt this Swedish custom of picking up a few bits of trash while hiking to clean up the environment.
- Avoid using plastics, especially single-use ones like water bottles, straws, and Styrofoam takeout containers and cups; these will float around in our waterways and oceans for centuries before they decompose.
- Reduce your energy usage to reduce your carbon footprint and slow down climate change.
How To Celebrate World Oceans Day: So many ways to celebrate! Share your marine knowledge with friends and family, and learn even more at festivals celebrating local waterways like the Rally for the Rivers Eco-Fest in Rumson’s Victory Park on June 3 (see details below). Participate in beach cleanups. Go on an Eco-Tour or whale watching. Dance to songs about the ocean or sing Sea Shanty songs. Enjoy fresh seafood. Create art to raise awareness and celebrate the wonders of our seas. Collect pretty shells from the beach and learn about the animals that made them. Watch fun ocean-based movies like Finding Nemo. Walk along a riverside or beach to breathe in the fresh scent of water. Listen to whale call recordings. Dip your toes into the Atlantic Ocean. Watch YouTube videos by NOAA about the oceans. Build a sandcastle. Watch a sunrise or sunset over the water. Encourage others to protect our marine life. We are blessed to be surrounded by so much beautiful water – let’s cherish it.
Come to the Rally for the Rivers Eco-Fest on June 3 from 9 – 12:30 at Rumson’s Victory Park. Sponsored by the Rumson Environmental Commission and Clean Ocean Action, there will be exhibits, seine fishing, crafts, face painting, music, and more!
Jody Sackett has been an environmentalist all her life. She graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania with a BS in Aquatic Environments, and has a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences from the Ohio University. While working full-time for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, she attended law school and earned a Juris Doctor degree; she is licensed to practice law in Ohio and NJ. She has worked in municipal and state governments, as well as an Environmental Attorney for the local law firm of Giordano, Halleran, & Ciesla. Changing gears to promote marine science and environmental education, she now works for the NJ Sea Grant Consortium as an educator and program administrator as well as serving on the Borough of Rumson – Environmental Commission. Jody has lived in Rumson for over 28 years with her husband Ray, and they have two children, Ethan and Julianne.