Just 10 Rivers Contribute Up to 95% of River-Based Ocean Pollution

ENVIRONMENT

Just 10 rivers may be responsible for dumping almost four million tonnes of plastic into the ocean every year. (Cosmos)

Use our activity to help students trace the sources and impacts of marine debris.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s great MapMaker Interactive map.

Children collect and recycle garbage below the Old Iron Bridge on the polluted Yamuna river in Delhi, India. The Yamuna is the longest tributary of the Ganges, which contributes tons of plastic pollution to the ocean every year.
Photograph by Matthieu Paley, National Geographic

Use today’s MapMaker Interactive map to discuss why these 10 rivers contribute so disproportionately to riverine pollution of the ocean.

Discussion Ideas

 

 

 

  • Some alarming headlines about this study claim that “95% of plastic polluting the world’s oceans comes from just ten rivers.” Is this what the research actually says?
    • No. Research indicates that ten rivers contribute between 88% and 95% of plastic pollution from rivers. Most plastic pollution comes from coastal cities and towns.

 

Use today’s MapMaker Interactive map to discuss why these 10 rivers contribute so disproportionately to riverine pollution of the ocean. Use the bookmarks to consider how population density and land-use patterns may impact river pollution.

  • Take a look at today’s MapMaker Interactive map. Why do you think these ten rivers account for such a huge proportion of river-based plastic marine debris?
    • size. One of the researchers says “large rivers are particularly efficient in transporting plastic debris. Large rivers like the Yangtze transport a higher fraction of the MMPW that is generated in their catchments than smaller rivers.”
    • population density.[R]ivers with the highest estimated plastic loads are characterised by high population – for instance the Yangtze with over half a billion people.”
    • location. Many of these big rivers flow through different municipalities, states or provinces, and nations. In fact, some the rivers serve as borders between nations. (At various points, for instance, the Mekong forms the border of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.) Each municipality, state, or nation may have different environmental regulations and policies regarding the river. Downstream nations often have less control over the streamflow than upstream nations. (This has huge political implications that stretch into environmental, industrial, and health-care policies. Learn more about river management policies on the Nile with this study guide.)
    • economics. All of the most-polluting rivers flow through nations with rapidly developing economies, including China and India. Economic development programs may include a focus on agricultural and industrial infrastructure. Strict environmental policies aren’t always a part of economic development programs, and this is not just true for developing economies.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Cosmos: Just 10 rivers may be to blame for millions of tonnes of ocean plastic

Daily Mail: Shocking report reveals that 95% of plastic polluting the world’s oceans comes from just TEN rivers including the Ganges and Niger

Nat Geo: Rivers contributing the most plastic pollution to the ocean

Nat Geo: Marine Debris: A Legacy of Litter

Nat Geo: What is marine debris?

(extra credit!) Nature Communications: River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans

(extra credit!) Science: Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean

2 responses to “Just 10 Rivers Contribute Up to 95% of River-Based Ocean Pollution

  1. Pingback: Mapping the World Public Policy Dialogue: Ocean Conservation – National Geographic Society (blogs)·

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