From Small to Large ─ the Path From Creeks to the Ocean

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By Jodie Merritt

The Power Of Connection

Everything is connected. From the furthest stars to the tiniest insects, the smallest grain of sand to the enormity of the oceans. A series of relationships links each part of our planet together. A single choice has the potential to cause a ripple effect, with huge implications on the other side of the world.

To explore this relationship, we need to take a look at the vast oceans which make up over 70% of the surface of the Earth. A series of rivers and streams join these oceans together, winding their way across the globe. This single choice can cause a significant impact on the health of the entire ocean. The way we treat tributaries can have wider effects, and offers a chance to make a real change to the planet.

What Is a Tributary?

In the simplest terms, a tributary is a freshwater stream, which feeds into a larger body of water. We call this larger body the mainstem, and it is usually a river or stream. The confluence refers to the point at which the tributary joins the mainstem. Many small tributaries come together to form the majority of large rivers on Earth. Each tributary contains a different watershed, depending on the point of origin. Each of these elements comes together to make up the larger watershed of the mainstem, or main river.

How Do Tributaries Impact the Ocean?

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While tributaries do not flow straight into the sea, they can still have a huge impact on the ocean. Pollutants in the tributaries often result in the mainstem itself becoming polluted. Remember, the main river contains all the runoff from all the tributaries. Unfortunately, this also includes all the pollution too. In areas with high development, such as major cities, this issue is far more prominent. In most cases, humans are the number one culprits.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are one of the biggest issues facing our oceans today. Their smaller size allows them to travel through the system. On the way, they can cause serious issues for wildlife, sea creatures, and the health of our one world ocean. The term “microplastic” refers to any plastic debris which is less than 5mm in length. These items can come from a range of innocent household sources. There are two main categories for microplastics: primary and secondary.

Primary microplastics are those designed especially for commercial use. Key examples include beauty products and microfibers. These tend to shed from textiles, including fishing nets and clothing, and can be a real issue. Secondary microplastics are those formed when larger plastic items start to break down. This can be thanks to factors such as ocean waves, and radiation from the sun. Microplastics also appear in health and beauty products including toothpastes and cleansers. This is usually through the disposal of microbeads ─ tiny pieces of plastic added to the products.

The smaller size of microplastics makes them a serious issue for marine and wildlife. Due to their reduced measurements, they can slip through most water filtration systems. This means they are not eliminated before they have a chance to reach large bodies of water. Once they reach the ocean, birds and sea creatures can mistake these tiny shards of plastic for food. If they eat the plastic, this can result in serious injury, illness, and, in some cases, even death.

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How Can You Help?

Taking care of the ocean may seem like an enormous task, but there are simple steps we can all take. Even the smallest changes can help us play our part and make a difference. Best of all, it can all start at your local creek. By making a few small, simple changes, you can maintain the health of local streams, creeks and rivers. These small steps will then have a knock on effect on the health of the ocean, and wider water systems.

Reduce Soil Erosion

Soil erosion is one of the biggest threats facing many rivers around the world. As soil enters the water, it becomes clogged and stagnant, unable to flow. Over time, this results in blockages which can increase the risk of floods. Also, any pollutants in the soil can contaminate the water. As we have seen, these toxins can end up in the ocean, where they have the potential to cause a lot of damage.

To help reduce this, plant trees and bushes along the banks of creeks, as well as any bare spots. These plants offer protection for the land, helping to reduce the impacts of harsh winds. They also help to slow the water as it flows, and offer rain the chance to soak back into the ground. The root system can also help to hold the soil in position, reducing the risk of damage from wind and rain.

Plant a Rain Garden

A rain garden can be a great way to help manage the storm and rainwater runoff from hard surfaces. You can use any area of shallow ground which receives runoff, for example, from roofs. The goal is to pack the area with plants which do not mind large quantities of water, and which will welcome the run off.

Rain gardens help to absorb excess water, and this reduces the risk of soil erosion. Left untreated, soil erosion can cause serious  damage to creeks. As a bonus, your garden is likely to attract a host of birds and insects. Rain gardens allow you to enjoy the wonder of nature while doing your part.

Reduce Single-Use Plastics

One of the most effective changes you can make in the long term is to cut down on your use of single-use plastics. Many nations around the world have already taken steps in this direction. The best known changes include switching to reusable products, bags and straws. But there is always more we can do!

By reducing the demand for microplastics, we can help to slow their production. Over time, we can even aim to drop their use altogether. In the short term, cutting down the number of microplastics you use can help reduce the risks.

It is important to think about your products. Beauty and skincare are major culprits here; these go straight down the drain and into the water. Switch to reusable options where possible ─ this will reduce the amount of toxins in the system. Additionally, always do your best to consume in a responsible, conscious manner.

Hunt for Litter

Keeping litter and unwanted waste out of your local creek can also have a huge impact down the line. Catching and removing the waste early reduces the chances of later issues. One of the most common dangers includes the litter causing hazards to terrestrial and marine life. Many birds and animals may try to eat litter, causing serious injury. They may also risk becoming tangled up and trapped, causing serious injury or death. Be proactive in removing litter from streams and creeks ─ remembering to stay safe. Most important, don’t forget to remind others to do the same!

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The Next Steps

Taking care of the ocean is a responsibility shared by us all. It is important to remember that even the smallest decision could make a huge difference. Everything is connected; and this is a fact we can use to inspire real, long-lasting change. With a few adjustments to your lifestyle, you can play an active part in protecting our rivers and oceans. This also helps to boost the health and wellbeing of the environment. The real question here is: Are you up for the challenge?

Learn more about how Ocean Blue Project can help you organize a group cleanup.

: Jodie Merritt is a passionate advocate for the environment and animal rights. She wants to play her part in helping to tell stories that matter. She enjoys art, yoga, and cats. She’s also working on completing her PhD.