Today is a beautiful day at sea. We are 300 miles east of Recife, Brazil, the blue sky has fluffy clouds, and the sea, cresting with an occasional whitecap, is a deep blue glittering with sunlight. Does the ocean look polluted? No, it looks beautiful.

But just because it doesn’t look polluted, doesn’t mean it isn’t. I only see a narrow swath, on either side of the boat, and only in daytime, and only if I’m on deck. To answer the question properly, we need to Ask an Expert. If we were buying a house, we’d consult a real estate expert, if we were sick, we’d consult a medical doctor. We need trained, data driven, environmental scientists to guide us by their research, not just opinions.

And what do the experts say? They say that the oceans are polluted, and are getting more polluted. Is there a Great Atlantic Garbage Patch so densely polluted that you could walk across it? No, not in the way that the media portrays it. But there is a large area of high concentration of microplastics that are there only because we humans let them get into the ocean, and then they found their way there through ocean currents.

The plastics are a problem because they get into the food chain of fisheries, and we need fish as a protein source. Oil pollution along coasts is problematic due to contamination of wetlands. Chemical pollutions of rivers and stream is problematic for drinking water and fishing.

To create solutions for these problems, first we need to know the extent and characteristics of the problem. And for that we need data-driven research, the skilled scientists to interpret that data, and for the non-expert public to listen to the experts.