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What’s in This?: The Goddamn Ocean

You wouldn’t think we’d be able to basically kill something this big and amazing, but holy balls, we’re giving it our best shot

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition: The whole freaking ocean! Which makes zero sense in the context of our regular franchise, but the ocean is kind of a big deal and a lot of us are going to be balls deep in it, minimum, this summer, so what the hell.

The ocean is home to an insane number of things — including marine life, deadly viruses, enough trash to build a whole new planet and, yes, an awful lot of piss — that we’ve attempted to summarize as best as possible.

As I already mentioned, the whole Goddamn ocean isn’t a natural fit for this column, since we normally discuss the ingredients of things like packaged foods, medications, cosmetics and occasionally cleaning supplies. But considering the ocean covers 71 percent of Earth’s surface, combined with the fact that this wet wonderland is on the verge of a pollution-induced death, we figured an exploration of its innards was warranted. With that, let’s get to know this old wet boi a little bit better.

The Ingredients

1) Water: Nothing beats the ocean when it comes to water content. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ocean is made up of 321,003,271 cubic miles of water, which is enough to fill approximately 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallon-sized milk jugs.

2) Salt: The ocean also has no shortage of salt: The concentration of salt in ocean water is about 35 parts per thousand: For reference, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “By some estimates, if the salt in the ocean could be removed and spread evenly over the Earth’s land surface it would form a layer more than 500 feet thick, about the height of a 40-story office building.” Alternatively, as the scientists of Reddit explain, the ocean’s salt could be formed into a cube that’s more than 180 miles long on each side.

3) Marine Life: While counting fish is a daunting task, as you can probably imagine, scientists estimate that there are currently 3.5 trillion living in the ocean, and that doesn’t include plants, marine mammals (like dolphins), or other watery beasts. When you include every living being in the ocean, though, the most recent estimates suggest that there are 228,450 different marine species and somewhere between 500,000 and two million more multi-celled marine organisms, particularly those inhabiting the deep sea, that we still know virtually nothing about.

Unfortunately, many marine animals are on the verge of being wiped out altogether. According to a new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, more than a third of all marine mammals are currently threatened with extinction thanks to a combination of pollution, climate change and overfishing.

Which brings us to our next big ingredient… 

4) Pollution: Ocean pollution comes in many forms, ranging from sewage and radioactive waste to industrial waste and straight-up trash. In fact, dumping industrial, nuclear and other waste into the ocean was completely legal until the early 1970s, when it became (somewhat) more regulated. Still, dumping occurs illegally everywhere, which means we’re constantly flooding the oceans with bad shit.

For example: According to recent estimates, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Some 269,000 tons float on the ocean’s surface, while another four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer drift about the deep sea. Meanwhile, recent reports suggest that cruise ships alone dump one billion gallons of sewage — which contains dangerous bacteria, heavy metals, pathogens, viruses and pharmaceuticals when left untreated — into the ocean each year. 

From a biological perspective, all this pollution is wreaking havoc on the ocean and its ecosystems, but also on us, the people who are doing all the dumping. Of course, marine animals consume this trash, and then we consume them, which explains why a recent study found microplastics in human stools for the first time ever. Yeah, we’re totally fucked.

While we’re talking about sewage, though, there’s one upside: Peeing in the ocean is totally fine, since the amount we humans leave behind while splashing around barely adds up to a dribble compared to all the whales and whatnot. According to one study, sei whales produce about 166 gallons of urine per day, while fin whales produce about 257 gallons. That being the case, I officially change the ocean’s name to Whale Piss Soup. 

5) Viruses: Pollution and viruses go hand in hand, which explains why scientists recently discovered nearly 200,000 different viruses in the ocean. Most of these viruses had never been seen before, so we still know very little about them. That said, scientists are currently working to explore their roles in various global processes, which could actually help us figure out how to combat our dying ocean.

6) Shipwrecks: Rough estimates suggest that there are currently more than three million shipwrecks on the ocean floor. That number represents ships throughout the entirety of human history, including ancient canoes and more modern wrecks, like the Titanic and its priceless collection of hand-drawn French girls.

7) Mysteries: As I mentioned earlier, the ocean is home to many strange creatures that we still know nothing about, so keep an eye out for Leviathan or the Kraken next time you go snorkeling — that is, unless all that pollution we’ve been doing already led to their untimely demise.

The Takeaway

The ocean is our bro-cean, man. It provides us with delicious fish, radical waves and the opportunity to cry tears of joy — or sorrow, I don’t judge — while watching the sunset beam across its radiant surface. As such, we have a duty to protect it, whether that means using fewer plastic products or making more sustainable seafood choices.

The seals will thank you.

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