We all know that garbage and chemicals flowing into the ocean are bad news – for people and especially for marine life. Recently two local news articles put that into stark perspective. But the most disturbing report came via a new study in December that says more than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing about 270,000 tons, are floating throughout the world’s oceans.

Data collected from scientists from the U.S., France, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand says most of the pieces are “micro plastics” measuring less than 5 millimeters. The study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, is the first to study in depth the prevalence of plastic pollution in the ocean. Large pieces of plastic can choke large animals such as seals and turtles, but smaller pieces pose a bigger potential problem. Small bits of plastic are ingested by fish, so that pollution moves up the food chain, potentially affecting people as well.

On October 2, 2014, Civil Beat’s Anita Hofschneider highlighted a new study by researchers at Duke University, the University of Hawaii, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that has determined that nitrogen runoff is causing Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles to develop tumors in their eyes, flippers, and internal organs. Nitrogen is heavily used in fertilizer, and scientists say the runoff from yards, golf courses, and farms in Hawaii are clearly a dangerous threat to the endangered turtles.

A October 29, 2014, Honolulu Star-Advertiser article detailed how scientists pulled 57 tons of debris from waters surrounding the Northern Hawaiian Islands. Light bulbs, fishing nets, televisions, tires, and much more were found in the water and along the coasts of places such as Hermes, Pearl and Midway atolls, and Lisianski Island. Scientists say they also rescued three green sea turtles that were entangled in nets and may have died if they weren’t freed.

Officials say the unfortunate thing is that these clean ups only remove a tiny fraction of the debris floating in Hawaiian waters. However, daily activities such as recycling, using compost, and being more cognizant of storm water pollution will help to keep Hawaii’s coastal waters clean and clear of pollutants that are hazardous to the marine environment.