There have been calls to action to clean up the trash in the world's oceans, and now researchers are warning of the urgency to do the same thing in space. The efforts are more similar than they might sound, Time reports. "As a marine biologist I never imagined writing a paper on space," said Heather Koldewey, a senior marine technical adviser at the Zoological Society of London. "But through this collaborative research [we] identified so many parallels with the challenges of tackling environmental issues in the ocean." The team of researchers, which published an open letter about the problem this month in Science, includes experts in ocean plastic pollution.
The researchers put an astronomical number on the human-made objects floating in space: 100 trillion. In addition to bits of debris, that total includes live and decommissioned satellites; until Sputnik went up in 1957, Time points out, the count was zero. It took centuries for the oceans to become so trashed and just decades for space to be turned into a floating garbage dump. Now, space needs a cleanup. "Satellites are vital to the health of our people, economies, security, and Earth itself," a UK expert said, per Space.com. "However, using space to benefit people and the planet is at risk."
Clearing out space sounds like a huge job, but the scientists take heart in the efforts that are making progress in repairing the oceans. The first thing needed is a legally binding global treaty, they say; last year, 170 nations signed on to a treaty to combat the dumping of plastics in oceans. An agreement should hold government and commercial space launch services accountable for limiting the amount of space debris they cause and starting to remove what's floating out there now, the scientists write. That needs to happen quickly, their letter says, "to avoid repeating the mistakes that have left the high seas—and all who depend on them—vulnerable." (Read more space junk stories.)