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Conservation of ocean water requires renewed focus on the trash, bacteria and toxic chemicals that not only impact people but also threaten ocean wildlife: sea turtles, otters and sea birds.  According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles are killed every year.  About 90% of all the trash in the ocean is thought to be plastic.

In 2006, the UN Environmental Programme estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic.  In the Pacific Ocean between California and Japan, there is a place where the currents collect plastic debris; about 80% of the trash comes from land and the remainder from ships.  It’s estimated that this area, known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, may be twice the size of Texas.

Plastic particles have also been found inside of zooplankton, mussels and barnacles.  The concern is that these pellets and the toxins they attract like DDT and PCB’s are working their way up through the marine food chain and into the fish on our plates.

The other culprit in making fish less safe to eat is mercury.  The earth releases one third of the mercury in the environment from its core and in groundwater.  The remaining two thirds comes from people, in the form of consumer waste like fluorescent bulbs, thermometers and from medical vaccines. By-products of coal-burning, mining, industry, dentistry and medicine release mercury into the air and the water.  Leaks from offshore drilling and sewage also endanger marine habitats.

Once released, inorganic mercury is converted to methyl-mercury by microorganisms on land and in the water.  Through a process called bio-accumulation, mercury works its way up the food chain so that larger, predatory fish like tuna, swordfish and sharks have the highest mercury levels.