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Ocean plastics suck… What you need to know for World Ocean Day

We can all agree that ocean plastics suck…

This week we celebrate World Ocean Day, so now is the perfect time to turn our focus toward promoting a healthy ocean and climate. Unfortunately, we have a lot of damage to undo. 

According to Scientific American, “eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year.”  

As you may have guessed, land-based sources are the main reason for marine plastic pollution. These sources include the fishing industry, deficient waste disposal, construction, vehicle pollution, and more. The choices we are making on land are making drastic differences in our ocean.  

Why should we care about ocean plastics?

We put marine species at risk with plastic waste and pollution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) specifies that “marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and deaths.”

Wildlife including turtles, fishes, whales, and birds fall victim to plastic waste. They may suffer starvation, cuts, infections, as well as other injuries. When we threaten these animals with our carelessness, we threaten our biodiverse system, including ourselves. 

IUNC says that “plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.” Our plastic production and waste leads to carcinogenic chemicals infiltrating our foods and beverages, which can cause “developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders.”

Not to mention, we also tend to consume the marine animals we endanger through exposure to plastic. If you’re not troubled by human effects on marine life, at the very least be conscious of the ways human waste effects our health and safety

We should concern ourselves with protecting our environment especially now as we emerge from the pandemic. COVID has exacerbated preexisting issues relating to plastic in the ocean, and we need to prioritize our physical and intellectual resources back toward solving the environmental issues we’ve caused. 

How has COVID exacerbated these issues?

When the pandemic first began, we sat in quarantine wondering how the virus would affect our bodies, our economy, and our environment. Some assumed that the lack of travel due to social distancing would reduce carbon emissions. Carbon Brief projected that carbon emissions would drop 4% in 2020.

Additionally, countries in Asia such as China and Vietnam have increased efforts for wildlife conservation. In all, it seemed that one silver lining of the pandemic would be its beneficial effects on our environment. But we thought wrong. 

Our oceans can be counted as yet another COVID casualty. Scientific American reports that “COVID-19 triggered an estimated global use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves every month.”

These billions of facemasks and gloves have found their way to our rivers and oceans to threaten marine life. Apparently, sea turtles often mistake masks for jellyfish—one of their preferred foods. 

These products are harming more than just turtles. Fish, birds, and other marine animals ingest and become entangled in these waste products. As we worked to prevent illness on land, we effectively made our oceans sicker. 

What can we do about it? 

7 simple steps to help rid our oceans of plastics

  1. Conserve Water

The less water you waste, the less excess runoff and wastewater goes into the ocean. There are countless steps you can take to conserve water. Try taking a shorter shower. Or, take a bath with minimal water.

Do not let the faucet run while you brush your teeth, shave, or wash produce. Use a watering can rather than a hose for your plants. And, if none of these options seem sufficient, here is a list of 100 ways to conserve water

2. Reduce waste 

Oceanic Society lists plastic pollution as “one of the greatest threats to ocean health worldwide.” Maybe think twice before buying plastic water bottles or throwing out food containers.

Instead, try to invest in reusable water bottles, cloth napkins, washable paper towels, reusable sandwich bags, and reusable shopping bags. Not only are these products environmentally conscious and aid in the effort to rid the oceans of plastics, but they are also likely to save you money in the long run. 

3. Reduce vehicle pollution

According to National Ocean Service, “millions of motor vehicle engines drop small amounts of oil each day onto roads and parking lots,” and this “makes its way to the sea.” I’ll admit that I tend to over rely on the convenience of a car. But as I’ve learned more about our environment and what pollutes it, I realize we don’t have the privilege of ignoring our effects on the earth. 

Next time it’s a nice day, maybe walk or bike to your destination if it is in reach. If you don’t own a bike, check if your town has a bike-share program. Make sure to carpool if you can. And, plan your errands in advance, so you can be most efficient with your car-usage. 

4. Volunteer for cleanups in your community 

This one is simple. Ask around or check online for any volunteer cleanups near you. Your time can be your most valuable resource. Even if you do not live near the ocean, picking up waste can have a positive impact on our environment and our oceans. 

5. Vote, Vote, Vote, and contact your representative 

Do some research on a candidate’s environment and ocean policies so you can be an informed voter. You can keep up your activism after elections, too. Contact your representative if you have any concerns and be an advocate for change. You never know what will make a difference. 

6. Reduce energy use 

The less energy you use, the smaller your carbon footprint. Some ways to accomplish this include air drying your laundry, using energy efficient light bulbs, and unplugging appliances when they are not in use. If you are looking to take a slightly bigger step, look for an alternative energy program near you. You can support the use of clean energy from the sun and wind. 

7. Be an ocean-friendly shopper

Next time you are shopping, avoid unsustainable products. Check to see if your cosmetics, clothing, are jewelry are made with marine materials, and avoid them if you can. Also, if you are going to purchase seafood, buy from sustainable fishers. Oceana suggests you “look for special terms like ‘line caught’, ‘diver caught’, ‘sustainably caught’ or ‘sustainably harvested.’”

Take action

If you would like to participate in World Ocean Day, find an event near you. You can also sign petitions and show support on social media with this social media toolkit.

World Ocean Day may only last 24 hours, but our efforts should be year-long to rid our oceans of plastics. Environmental issues need to be taken seriously. If we take action now, we can make a healthier, sustainable ocean.