When I wrote last Sunday about Ghost Fishing – discarded fishing equipment in the oceans that causes the needless suffering and death of thousands of fish, dolphins, sharks, whales turtles etc. every year – I nearly lost sight of one statistic that with hindsight is staggering.
Discarded fishing equipment only takes up 10% of the plastic rubbish floating about in the oceans. The problem is so much bigger.
That this is a huge problem was emphasized recently by the appearance of big slabs of polystyrene on ice floes in the Arctic Ocean.
So this Sunday I thought I would look into the more general problem of plastics in the oceans.
Some startling stats
- An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year.
- That’s equivalent to dumping a truck load of plastic rubbish in the seas every minute.
- Big pieces of plastic choke and entangle turtles and seabirds.
- Smaller pieces clog the stomachs of creatures who mistake it for food, from tiny zooplankton to whales.
- Plastic is now entering every level of the ocean food chain and even ending up in the seafood on our plates.
And it lasts (almost) forever
Just compare how long it takes for different materials to degrade in water:
Ultimately it affects us too
Oceans are fundamental to the health of our planet. They are the very lifeblood of Earth’s ecosystem. To survive and prosper, mankind needs a harmonious relationship with our planet’s oceans.
What can we do?
There are lots of ways we can help; here are just some practical ideas:
1. Reduce our use of single-use plastics
These include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded. This could be by refusing them if offered them, in a shop or restaurant for example, and using reusable versions of these products.
When we do use single-use (and other) plastics, we need to recycle them if possible. This helps keep them out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation.
3. Avoid microbeads
Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Here is a helpful list of cosmetic products containing microbeads.
4. Support organizations addressing plastic pollution
There are many non-profit organizations working to tackle the problem of ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways. Each country has its own organizations so I won’t even try to list them here.
5. Join the Greenpeace campaign to end the flow of plastic into our oceans
Greenpeace is calling on big corporations to act to reduce their plastic footprint – and stop producing excessive plastic packaging that is designed to be used once then thrown away.
For example, Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea.
6. Pick up garbage and litter near beaches
Much of the plastic and debris found in the ocean has its beginnings in beach litter. As beach crowds increase, so does the amount of trash left behind. Beach clean-ups can be a first step towards cleaner oceans.