What are the dangers of littering on beaches?

Written by melissa gagnon
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What are the dangers of littering on beaches?
Annual beach cleanup campaigns take place in many states. (Keep the world clean. image by Saskia Massink from Fotolia.com)

Litter on beaches is not only unsightly, it poses a serious threat to wildlife and people. Litter is the result of garbage left by beachgoers, items thrown overboard by boaters, and material dumped into the oceans by companies and factories. Litter from the beach can blow into the ocean, while litter in the water can wash up on shore. Littering is harmful and illegal, and is costly to clean up.

Dangers to Wildlife

Plastic, one of the main sources of litter on beaches, can be deadly. Wildlife can get tangled in plastic loops that hold cans together, causing them to become injured or even die. Plastic bags and other plastic materials are sometimes swallowed by birds, dolphins, whales and other sea life because they mistake bags for food. Animals have died from ingesting litter because it can get lodged in their systems and make it impossible for them to digest food. The Marine Conservation Society reports that "it is likely that millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of sea mammals die each year after swallowing or becoming entangled in marine debris."

Water Pollution

Litter that's thrown on the beach gets washed into the water and can contaminate it. In some parts of the ocean, there are more small pieces of plastic than there are plankton. Plastic breaks down into tiny pieces over time, and these small particles are found in sand and even in the bodies of sea life. Other types of litter that contaminate the ocean include raw sewage, heavy metals and chemicals. Whether it's thrown into the ocean by boaters or leaked from large companies, this litter is a serious health risk. Swimming in polluted waters can cause viral infections. Food poisoning is also a potential danger if you ingest shellfish that comes from heavily contaminated waters.

Revenue Loss

People are less likely to go to the beach if it looks dirty, which means less revenue for the town or city and the businesses surrounding it. Fewer tourists and less money mean higher taxes for beach town residents. It costs taxpayers money to clean up after people who litter.

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