Our oceans, the delicate systems that underpin all of life on Earth, face threats from overfishing, climate change, plastic, pollution, and development. But it’s not too late to act, there are things we can all do now, big and small, to help defend them.
Unless you’re a hermit crab, you likely recently watched Blue Planet II or have heard about the issue of plastic waste in our seas. It’s brilliant to see that these issues are finally coming to the public’s attention. The government has made some positive steps in introducing the 5p charge on plastic bags and banning microbeads. But there’s so much more we must all do because our seas face a whole host of different challenges.
What we see now always becomes the new norm. This means we struggle to fully understand how much things have changed. There are records of seas and rivers so full of fish that you could almost walk on them. Fishers and anglers I interviewed for my dissertation told me they remembered huge schools of fish in the rivers and seas they frequented. They also said fish sizes were much bigger. The fishing industry has a short-term focus that is slowly but surely destroying its own survival. They catch as many fish as they can for profit, not caring about the byproduct (like turtles and dolphins) they catch on the way, the huge numbers of wasted dead fish dumped over the side or that they are not leaving enough for the next generation to thrive. Fish stocks have already collapsed in some areas with more predicted to go.
Industrial scale trawling by fishing boats is also a huge issue. Trawlers are dragged across the seabed like a plough, destroying everything in their wake in minutes. Whole habitats and ecosystems vanish this way.
The biggest victim of climate change is the oceans. On Blue Planet II we saw the desolation coral bleaching causes to our most biodiverse habitats. As average temperatures rise this will increase. Increased ocean acidification is another problem resulting in damage to the shells and skeletons of sea creatures and corals.
The oceans make up 70% of the planet’s surface. This has huge implications for the whole planet if the ocean warms further or is fundamentally changed. Sea level rise from melting arctic ice will permanently flood coastal areas and wetlands causing destruction, habitat loss and population upheaval. Complex changes in the sea’s chemistry and temperature could have unpredictable impacts on our global weather patterns. The ocean is a huge store of carbon dioxide and heat but it has its limits. As well as attacking life, acidification has the side effect of reducing the flow of sulfur out of the ocean into the atmosphere. This reduces the sea’s ability to reflect solar radiation, resulting in even more global warming.
Plastic and other forms of pollution
We all know that plastic is a huge problem for our environment, especially our oceans. Plastic makes its way into our seas by getting into our waterways. Once there it gradually degrades into microplastics which build up in the food chain and result in the creation of toxins. Even before it gets small, marine life see plastic as food resulting in turtles, fish and birds eating pieces of plastic resulting in death. Plastic is a threat to all marine life and ourselves. We live in a throwaway society which results in huge amounts of unnecessary plastic getting into places it shouldn’t.
Toxins, chemicals and drugs also pollute our oceans as humans generally treat the sea as a giant bin. This can poison marine life and ultimately ourselves or cause unnatural effects. For example, hormonal drugs such as oestrogen have been proven to be changing the gender of certain fish.
Threats from development
Not only do our seas face indirect impacts from our everyday actions but they also suffer from direct attacks. Our coastlines are desirable places to live and visit resulting in developments that destroy wildlife habitats. Things like light pollution have harmful effects on wildlife such as baby turtles who mistake lights for the moon causing them to head inland. Coastlines are also seen as prime places to build power stations such as coal and gas which pollute the nearby sea and coral reefs. Flood management schemes like dredging are also hugely damaging for habitats and wildlife.
How you can help
It’s not looking good for our oceans. But there is always hope, we can still make a difference. Dory from Finding Nemo taught us that! There are marine protected areas which are proven to boost fish stocks and make marine ecosystems more resilient. So far 5% of the ocean is protected with plans to increase that. Fulmer gulls have less plastic in their diets than they used to. Methods to clear up our oceans have been invented. We are beginning to wake up to the impacts we’re having and we can all do something about it. Every drop in the ocean counts.
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Use less plastic! Avoid packaging, opt for glass jars over plastic ones, use biodegradable bin bags, avoid unnecessary plastic like straws or cling film and use cloth shopping bags
- Use a Guppy Friend whenever you wash synthetic clothes to stop plastic microfibres getting into our waterways
- Don’t put wet wipes, cotton pads, paper towels, tampons or anything that’s not toilet paper (or your business) down the toilet. Use reusable sanitary products.
- Stop buying and eating fish (especially tuna) or make sure you only get MSC certified if you must eat it. Remember the fish you are eating has microplastic in it!
- Raise awareness by talking to your friends and family and sharing this blog
- Support charities like Marine Conservation Society in any way you can, whether that’s through taking part in a campaign, donating or being a volunteer
- Take part in Greenpeace campaigns to defend the ocean
- Whenever you see litter on your travels pick it up and put it in a bin!
- Limit your contribution to climate change by using less energy, travelling more sustainably, living a greener lifestyle and reducing waste
I’m going to be renaming my blog soon, I’d love it if you could share some feedback on this in my online survey. It will only take you a minute, please take part here. If you have your own blog, I’ll share it in a later post to say thank you!