For some, the ocean is a sanctuary where spirits can be lifted and the soul can be renewed; for others, the ocean is completely irrelevant to their life. Beliefs about the ocean are easily shaped by their distance from it. Unfortunately, “out of sight, out of mind” is the wrong attitude to have towards the ocean. After all, our planet is approximately 70 percent ocean, and 97 percent of the water on our planet is ocean water. Not only are the oceans big, but they are important to human livelihood. So why does the majority of the population neglect them? Is it a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest?
In September 2015, the United Nations set a list of Sustainable Development Goals to be completed by 2030. The goals address subjects ranging from education, health, poverty, climate change and the oceans. The first of 14 goals for the ocean reads, “By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.” Though this is only one goal, it may be the easiest place to start in protecting the great big blue that supports and manages the foods we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
In 2010, eight-million tons of plastic trash were found in the ocean from coastal countries. Sadly, the amount of plastic trash continues to grow as the demand for plastic itself increases. Plastic is not the only garbage being tossed into the ocean either. Fishing line, fishing nets, cigarette butts, styrofoam, you name it and it has found its way to the ocean. This pollution does not remain alongside the coast though; it floats and makes its way hundreds of miles away from human life.The Pacific garbage patch is only one of many places where trash clumps together in the ocean. It is estimated that this garbage patch doubles in size every decade. Garbage, including plastic, is damaging to ecosystems, marine animals and our food.
New to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species is the Loggerhead turtle. Distributed through the subtropical and temperate regions of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, these incredible creatures are one of many to be threatened by human impacts. Loggerheads that migrate have been found to have higher levels of chemicals found in pesticides, than those that stayed near Florida. Migration of sea turtles is important because they graze on seagrass, increasing the productivity of grass beds and nursery habitats. They also consume sponges that compete with coral growth, and their unhatched eggs provide nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to beaches. With high pollution levels in the ocean, all of the benefits the turtle provides will be lost.
How does this pollution affect humans? The floating garbage will eventually break down and split into fragments and tiny pieces. These pieces will feed plankton, fish will eat that plankton and humans will eat those fish. The effects of eating these fish are not completely known, but the fish that consume the plastic are more likely to have tumors and liver problems. If we know what plastic does to animals, why would we want to bring these possible health implications on ourselves, especially when the world’s largest source of protein is the ocean, with more than 3 billion people relying on it for their primary source.
Whether or not the ocean is in your backyard or five states away, we need to care for it. It provides food for the majority of the world, employs over 200 million people and ultimately provides for everyone’s well-being. The ocean currently is the world’s biggest trash receptacle, and though it may seem as though the ocean is doomed by human impact, there are many ways for humans to impact the ocean in a positive way.
Recycling is the best way to eliminate the amount of plastic that finds its way to the ocean. More and more public places are implementing recycling containers, making it easier to recycle properly. If you have something that cannot be recycled, make sure that when you throw it away, it ends up in the container and not on the ground blowing in the wind. Next time you go to the grocery store, bring reusable bags with you (some stores will even take a discount off your purchase for bringing your own bags). Most importantly, being a leader to your friends and family is a great way to share your concerns and make a positive impact one step at a time.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons