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Keeping the Earth's Waterways Clean

Learning about how our oceans work is great, but we also need to protect them. Everyone can help keep our water clean. First we can recycle our plastic. Also, we can clean up the trash in our rivers and on our beaches. Three major things that pollute our water are plastic trash, oil and hydrocarbons from our cars.

Plastics are like poisons in a waterway. Most plastics can’t be naturally broken down, so it will last for a long time in the waterways. Turtles, birds, and other animals can choke on plastics.


Another major problem is oil pollution. When oil gets in the ocean, it sticks to animal fur coats and feathers. Animals with oil-slicked coats and feathers may die from the freezing temperatures. It’s also poisonous to drink water with oil. Animals can get very sick or become disabled.

Finally, cars pollute the air with tons of hydrocarbons. In the earth’s water cycle, the water in the air comes down as rain. The rain has hydrocarbons in it, so when the rain falls into the ocean, the hydrocarbons will mix into the ocean.

Get Involved

Kids can help promote awareness about cleaning up the ocean. Here are some ways that you can help out in your own neighborhood. You can do these activities on your own or with your family, friends, or classmates.

Be sure to get your parent’s permission before going out on your own or disclosing any personal information – better yet, do it with them!


Recycle: One of the easiest ways to help keep the ocean clean is to recycle your plastic and glass containers. Look at the bottom of each piece of plastic you want to recycle. The numbers located there represent different types of plastics. You can find out which types of plastics are recycled in your neighborhood by contacting your local recycling hauler.

Clean up the Beach: You and your friends can volunteer to do an annual beach or neighborhood cleanup. Check out Ocean Conservancy for news on the annual International Coastal Cleanup. You can also see if there is a local cleanup in your state or county.

Become Active: Stay up-to-date on the latest ocean issues in the news and magazines. You and your friends can start a petition or write to your congressional representative about a specific local issue. Petitions for national current events related to the ocean and marine life are also available in Ocean Conservancy’s Take Action section.

Learn More: Read about oil pollution and then help educate those around you about the safest way to dispose of oil products.