Plastic pollution has finally hit the news and whilst the task ahead is still huge, there are signs that the tide is changing for plastic polluting our seas and oceans. In the UK, there has been a “Blue Planet Effect” where one extremely popular TV series has had a profound influence on the way people think about the plastic they use. On top of this with Sky TV running a campaign on their sporting channels and the mainstream TV and paper news outlets finally bringing the problem into our sitting rooms, the public and politicians are taking note and starting to act.
What is the problem?
Well – all the plastic that has ever been made still exists. It might break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it never goes away. Here are some more sobering facts:
- Over 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.
- The UN estimates that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean – 500 times more than the number of stars in the galaxy. Plastic debris outweighs plankton by a ratio of 36 to 1. Oceans are predicted to contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
- More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tonnes afloat at sea. In July 2017, a plastic waste patch bigger than Mexico was discovered floating in the Pacific Ocean.
- Plastic products leach toxins that are now found in most people. Exposure to these toxins is linked to infertility, cancers and many other health problems.
- In 2016, 6,000 Great British Beach Clean volunteers picked up 268,384 individual pieces of plastic from 364 British beaches over just one weekend.
Wild animals get entangled in plastic, eat it or mistake it for food and feed it to their young. Over 260 species have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output and death. Plastic is ingested by 31 species of marine mammal and more than 100 species of sea birds.
So what are divers doing to help?
Lots – but there is so much more to do! Of course, divers are usually passionate about the oceans and marine life, so can be the best advocates for promoting the idea of giving up single-use plastic.
Our very own Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown helped to set up a campaign called SeaStraw that is helping bars and restaurants give up single-use plastic and they are having great success in Manchester where they live. Businesses can download and sign their pledge from the website, putting themselves on the Ocean Heroes Map, by clicking here.
We recently ran a story about a liveaboard fleet that has given up plastic straws and aims to be single-use plastic free by 2019. You can read about that here: www.scubaverse.com/liveaboard-fleet-makes-plastic-pledge
Lots of dive centers, resorts and liveaboards we have recently dived with are giving away re-usable water bottles, rather than single-use plastic cups.
Many dive centres organise beach clean-ups to remove plastic pollution from the shoreline and even underwater.
Charities such as Project Aware and the Marine Conservation Society collect both rubbish and vital data about plastic pollution in our oceans.
But there is more that can be done, and it will take divers to speak up, celebrating the good as well as calling out bad practices to help us stamp out plastic pollution in our oceans. For example, email your favourite dive manufacturer and ask them to use less plastic in their product packaging. Refuse single-use plastics like straws and cups from the bars and restaurants you frequent on diving trips and in every day life. Don’t take part in balloon releases. Every little thing you do will help.
We want to know what you have encountered on your dive trips around the world. What great initiatives have you seen? Please give a shout out to the dive establishments that are doing their bit and give them the recognition they deserve. If you run a dive centre and are doing your bit – let us know.