The ocean is suffering – here’s how you can help

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The oceans are suffering. Around 8 million items of litter enter the marine environment every day; plastic is now the most common element found in the ocean. One hundred thousand sea mammals are killed in the ocean by pollution each year, and another three hundred thousand dolphins and porpoises die each year because of becoming entangled in ghost fishing gear.

Stopping pollution and removing pollution from the ocean is a momentous task. But everything begins with small steps; some can be done from the comfort of your own home, and some can be integrated into the classic bank holiday trip to the seaside.

Some ocean friendly choices are:

Use bags for life instead of normal plastic bags

A plastic bag can take between 150 years to over 1,000 years before it degrades. However, it doesn’t biodegrade, it’s broken down by light into tiny little fragments of plastic, which are toxic – these are known as microplastics. In relation to the ocean, an estimated 1,000,000 birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea organisms die each year from ingesting plastic, according to Greenpeace. They can easily mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and other edible sea creatures. Using a reusable carrier bag prevents more plastic entering our oceans.

Join a beach clean

Bank holidays are always an excuse to visit the seaside – have some chips sat on the pier, watch the kids fight over who has built the best sandcastle… or you could join one of the many groups of people who spend their weekends/bank holidays cleaning the beaches. They collect washed up cans, plastic bottles, toys… all sorts of things! There are events organised all over the UK for people to take part in (here, here, here). Or you could organise you own! Maybe have an impromptu tidy up, making it a game for the children. To see some of the amazing things which have been found on beach cleans look here.

Recycle

Recycling 14 trees worth of paper reduces air pollutants by 165,142 tons. I know we’re discussing marine pollution, but ocean acidification is caused by the uptake of CO2 from the air, and recycling could potentially slow the rate of coral bleaching and save calcified organisms, which are damaged by increasing ocean acidity.

The dumping of used plastic destroys sea life at an estimated 1,000,000 sea creatures per year! Glass and plastic take the longest to degrade, but are completely recyclable, which is why it’s important we recycle them. It’s believed that 60%-70% of rubbish we put in our bins could have been recycled instead. Recycling doesn’t just reduce the amount of waste entering the ocean, it also reduces the amount of power we use. Theoretically, we could hit two birds with one stone. When we produce aluminium products from virgin metal it consumes close to 100 times the power required to recycle aluminium. In the UK an estimated 70% of our energy comes from non-renewable energy sources. If we use less energy we will lower the amount of air pollution, which I’ve already mentioned has horrific effects for our oceans.

Food scraps to compost

In 2009 it was found that an estimated 25% of food bought by households was thrown away. Food waste contains Nitrogen and Phosphorous which when in water can lead to eutrophication and algae blooms.

By collecting your food waste and using it to produce compost you are reducing your rubbish – and that compost can be used instead of artificial fertilizers.

Compost is great for the environment and great for you. It’s free to make and replaces somewhat expensive fertilizer and shop bought compost.

To find out how to set up your own compost look at my previous article here.

Purchase items with minimum packaging

When you go into a supermarket, it’s likely you will see more packaging that you will food. I know I do! Apples surrounded in Styrofoam holders swarming with plastic wrapping, bread suffocating in plastic bags…

To reduce your waste and plastic usage try and purchase items which come with less packaging, or at least recyclable packaging. Most plastic can be recycled, but make sure you read the packaging, and look for the recyclable symbol. Styrofoam is not recyclable and can take over 500 years before it typically begins to break down. In the ocean, Styrofoam is often mistaken for food and eaten; when inside an organism, it blocks the digestive tract and the organism will usually starve and then die.

Read the label

I will admit I am terrible for looking at labels when I’m shopping, but I try and check for the basics: sustainable fishing (the blue tick – if you want more information about how to shop for fish sustainably there is information here). I also avoid microbead products. Although they are now being phased out (UK and USA), it will still take years before they are completely gone from our shelves. A new one I will be adding to my list is cleaning products which contain phosphate which can lead to eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients) and algal blooms (rapid growth of algae, which can cause oxygen reduction).  A small change in your shopping habits can make a big difference to the ocean; for example, allowing fish stocks to increase.

Sustainably caught Pollack. Credit John Wheeler

On a positive note, we are making a difference – we are increasing the amount of power we receive from renewable sources; we are also reducing the amount of plastic we use. We’re moving forwards to a brighter future – one with a healthier ocean.

I hope these tips have given you a few ideas to help you lead a greener life, and to know that no matter how far away from the coast you are, you matter to it.

Lauren Fidler

Lauren Fidler

Lauren Fidler is a Marine Biology and Oceanography student at Plymouth university, hoping to specialise in marine conservation. She is also a keen diver and photographer.

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