Imagine getting out of bed in the morning, and instead of hitting the floor, your feet land in a pile of garbage. As you make your way to the kitchen, you become more and more entangled in the debris.
You eventually get to your destination, but you’ve lost all feeling in your lower limbs. The harder you tug, the tighter the grip becomes. You spot some granola on the counter. If you can’t move, you may as well have a snack, right?
One mouthful and you’re gagging. It looks like granola but it’s actually more trash. Now what? You can’t move, and you’re probably going to die because you ate something you shouldn’t have.
Welcome to the life of our ocean’s many inhabitants.
According to figures published in Science in 2015, between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year. To the untrained eye, a lot of that garbage looks like food. Sea turtles, for example, favor a diet of jellyfish and can quite easily mistake plastic bags floating for jellyfish. Scientists recently discovered that animals also “eat ocean plastic because it smells like food.”
Our Oceans are in Trouble
Along with serving as the planet’s largest habitat — an estimated 50-80 percent of all life on earth lives beneath the ocean surface — the ocean also helps to regulate the global climate.
[Watch] Oceans 101 | National Geographic
Climate change is changing that. These are a few of the ways that’s happening:
- As ocean temperatures rise, storms increase, delicate ocean life comes under threat and food chains are disrupted.
- Rising sea levels cause flooding in coastal regions.
- Ocean acidification results in lower levels of carbonate ions, making it difficult for calcifying organisms such as deep sea corals, oysters, clams, etc. to build and maintain shells.
- Ocean dead zones (the name given to areas with low oxygen levels) are also increasing, thanks to pollution and climate change.
Humans Are at the Heart of the Problem
Our oceans face a multitude of threats, and human activities are at the heart of the problem. According to National Geographic, “More than 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities.”
Global warming is causing sea levels to rise. Plastic pollution is choking the ocean and its inhabitants. Agricultural pesticides contaminate our water. Factories and industrial plants dump their sewage in the ocean. Out at sea, oil spills, poaching, overfishing, bycatch, illegal whaling and offshore drilling unleash a whole other set of manmade problems.
On the bright side, if humans are the problem, then we can also be the solution.
At a global level, UNESCO has instituted the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Taking place between 2021-2030, the decade is being hailed as “a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to strengthen the management of our oceans and coasts for the benefit of humanity.”
[Watch] Explaining the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
How to Fight Ocean Plastic
World Oceans Day is an opportunity for all of us to step up and make a difference. Change begins in our homes, at the grocery store and in the way we live our lives. These are some ways you can “be the change” in your day-to-day life.
Many argue that eating fish and seafood is fine, so long as it’s sustainably sourced. I’d argue (and I’m not alone) that sustainable fishing is a myth. How can we call any type of fishing sustainable when most of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from fishing gear?
A super easy way to make a difference is simply by supporting the organizations that work to save our oceans.
Microplastics have a devastating effect on the environment, and you can find them in a host of beauty products, from scrubs and eyeliner to lipstick and sunscreen.
Make a point of supporting ethical, eco-conscious businesses that use only natural and organic ingredients. Alternatively, whip up your own DIY beauty products.
Go on regular beach cleanups. You can join a group, create your own or go solo, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is to get out there and pick up some trash.
If you don’t live near the beach then support an organization that’s cleaning up the ocean.
Don’t flush your kitty litter down the toilet. Keep seafood sustainability front of mind when buying food for Fido or Trixie.
If you have an aquarium, wild-caught saltwater fish are a big no-no. And while we’re on the subject, never release aquarium fish into the ocean or river.
Coastal towns are known for their sea-inspired souvenirs. Some of these keepsakes are harmless, but a lot of times they’re made from endangered marine life.
Never buy tortoiseshell hair accessories, coral jewelry, shark products (teeth, fins, etc.) or cosmetics containing traces of whales or sharks.
When you clean your home, the products you use go down the drain and into our water sources before finally making their way to the sea. Whether you’re doing the dishes or scrubbing the bath, make sure you use something that isn’t harmful to the environment.
You can either buy eco-friendly products or create your own DIY green cleaning kit.
Most people nowadays recycle. The problem comes in when we’re lazy about it. Tossing a greasy pizza box or dirty aluminum can into your blue bin can contaminate an entire batch of recycling. Something that could have been recycled will end up on the landfill as a result.
Take the time to “up your recycling game” so the right things end up in recycling.
With an estimated eight million tons of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans each year, bidding farewell to single-use plastic should be something every human commits to. Living zero-waste is easier than you think, it just takes a little planning and forethought.
There are plenty of common items that you can replace with zero-waste alternatives. There are also a number of products you can carry with you at all times to help you avoid unnecessary packaging, such as a water bottle, coffee cup and on-the-go cutlery set.
I get that avoiding single-use plastic completely is a huge challenge. Companies package in accordance with their bottom line, and that invariably has nothing to do with the environment. The solution? Create an eco brick. You’d be amazed by how much trash can be squished into one bottle. Take a look at this recent Facebook post of our own ecobrick in progress:
There you have it. A whole lot of reasons to save of our oceans and a bunch of ways to do just that. Happy World Oceans Day.
Want to go a step further? Join over 55,000 Care2 members, and sign and share the petition to support efforts to save marine mammals from being strangled to death by manmade trash.
If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You‘ll find Care2‘s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.
Photo Credit: Getty Images