Tomorrow is World Oceans Day, and all across the world people will be showing their love for the blue bits of the planet in various ways.
Having spent over 520 days at sea, I probably know the blue bits better than most. I have been in a unique position to observe the visible impact that humans have had on the ocean. On a beautiful calm day, with sunlight glinting off the waves, it is heartbreaking to see a plastic bottle floating on the water. Mankind’s impact is felt everywhere. When I have been alone for a long time at sea – sometimes over a hundred days without seeing another human – this evidence of our carelessness is especially jarring. Even thousands of miles from land, the ocean wilderness is no longer pristine.
In 2008 I rowed past the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area twice the size of Texas containing an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash, most of it plastic. Plastic outweighs plankton by a ratio of 6:1. There are times when I felt ashamed to be a human being, and apologized to the small community of fish that congregated beneath my boat for the mess we have made of their home.
And it doesn’t impact just the fish. Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth, and are an integral part of our weather systems, climate control, and food supply. As plastic photodegrades, breaking into smaller pieces but never truly vanishing, it is eaten by fish and other sea creatures. Plastic is not an inert substance – toxins leach out into the flesh of the fishes’ bodies, and works its way up the food chain until it ends up on our dinner plate. We will reap what we sow. We cannot have a healthy planet – or healthy bodies – if we don’t have healthy oceans.
What can we do?
- If something is described as both “plastic” and “disposable”, have nothing to do with it. Plastic bags, plastic silverware, plastic or styrofoam cups, plastic water bottles – you can find biodegradable or reusable substitutes for all of these things at minimum cost and inconvenience. Everywhere I go I carry my metal water bottle and coffee mug, and my tiny chico bag. You can, too.
- Refuse, repurpose, reduce, re-use, recycle, but of these the greatest is refuse. Just say NO to plastic.
- Consume less. Most consumer goods come wrapped in plastic packaging. The sad irony of ocean plastic pollution is that much of it is not even anything that we use, but merely the packaging that comes with it. If you really want to make the point, return the packaging to the store and ask them to dispose of it. The word will soon make its way up to management.
- Pick it up. If you’re out for a walk and see plastic trash lying on the ground, do something about it. Don’t just turn a blind eye. If left there, it can blow into storm drains, then into rivers, then into the ocean to kill wildlife and contaminate the environment.
- Share the news. Ask friends and family to switch one of their disposable plastic habits for a sustainable, ocean-friendly one: such as bringing reusable food containers from home when eating out for your ‘doggie bag.’ Go to the official World Oceans Day website and register your pledge. We have a lot of work to do, but the longest journey starts with a single step – or oarstroke.
- Organise a screening of a film, like Bag It, or Plastic Shores, for your friends, family and neighbours. Films are a great way to spread the word. And if you serve up popcorn, make sure that it doesn’t come in a plastic bag!
[Featured image courtesy of Plastic Oceans Foundation]