Let’s Talk Marine Pollution.
The ocean covers over 70% of the planet. It absorbs carbon and produces oxygen vital for life. This makes them a vital resource for all life on the planet, including humans. However, we are not treating this vast part of our planet’s ecosystem with the respect it deserves. Marine pollution is a fast-growing issue across the globe, it is a complicated and expansive issue that needs our attention to ensure the future of our oceans, and our planet.
Marine pollution is made up of a huge combination of chemicals and waste which finds its way to our waterways after it is discarded by humans. This pollution has a negative impact on the environment, ocean health, biodiversity, and economic infrastructures worldwide.
So, first things first, let’s talk plastic pollution.
It has been a growing problem ever since man-made plastics were created in the early 1900’s. Since then, we have been using and abusing this ever-useful product, without much thought to where it goes when we are finished with it, and now we are facing a global crisis that is suffocating our oceans, polluting our bodies, and spoiling our beautiful planet.
Traditional plastics are made from fossil fuels. You don’t need me to tell you that this means bad news. Fossil fuels are a natural resource that are made up of organic matter that has become Carbon-rich over Millenia. The exploitation of fossil fuels is a huge contributing factor to the current climate crisis. So their use in the first place, in the creation of plastics, is already a big issue – before we even take into account use and disposal of the products. Since the end of WW2, the production of plastic has been a defining material of the modern world – everything is made of plastic! However, alongside this high usage of the material, we have also grown a throw-away culture that is made for convenience and not sustainability.
Reportedly up to 40 percent of all plastic produced annually is for single-use plastic products. Single-use products include wrapping for food products and the infamous supermarket carrier bag. Their lifespan of use is between minutes to hours at most, yet the materials that they are made from will remain in the environment for hundreds of years (if not more).
It is estimated that 8 million tonnes of plastic per year end up in our oceans from coastal nations alone. The plastic enters our marine environments and then starts to breakdown; however, it is now coming to light, those plastics most likely don’t disappear, they simply get smaller and smaller. These small particles are known as microplastics, which is another buzzword that has been in headlines on numerous occasions. Microplastics have now spread across the whole planet, with scientists finding them everywhere from Mount Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and even embedded in Arctic ice.
Not only is plastic pollution a blight on the beauty of our planet, but it is also detrimental to our wildlife. Millions of animals are needlessly killed every year by plastics. We all remember the tragic footage of birds who have eaten indigestible plastic, mistaking it for prey, which fills their bodies leaving them to starve to death. We have all seen the image of sea creatures perishing due to entanglement in abandoned fishing gear or the rings off a six-pack of beer. However, plastics are also doing harm that we cannot see without the help of technology. Microplastics and plastic fibres are making their way into the food chain which is wreaking havoc with the food supply for larger marine creatures, and negatively impacting reproduction rates and causing internal deformities within species populations in polluted areas around the entire globe.
It is thought that approximately 1 in 3 fish caught today contains microplastics, so it is plausible that the plastics we have created, and polluted the planet with, are now finding their way back into our bodies.
The nightmare is vast and easy to let become overwhelming. Here are some easy stats to help get your head around the issue:
How long until it’s gone?
- Toilet Roll = 1 month
- Cardboard = 2 months
- Cigarettes = 10 years
- Drinking Cans = 200 years
- Plastic Bags = up to 20 years
- Plastic Cutlery = up to 1000 years
- Fishhooks = 600 years
- Plastic Bottles = 450 years
- Glass = 4000 years
And marine pollution doesn’t stop with plastics.
Chemical contamination comes directly from human activities such as agriculture. This run-off of chemicals into our waterways disrupts the natural balance in our waters, which can lead to an increase of certain elements that encourage algae blooms and toxicity. This pollution can be disruptive to tourism, local economies, biodiversity, and human health – it also can make areas that were once known for their natural beauty become abandoned.
A combination of nitrogen-based fertilisers and chemical pesticides not only overload waterways with pollutants but also produce excess greenhouse gases, contaminating water and air alike. This can also come from the use of animal waste, which can easily end up in our waterways due to lack of regulation regarding its treatment and usage.
It is this mixture of threats from waste, plastics, other rubbish, and chemicals that means that to practically tackle the issue of marine pollution it is vital to look at both clean up and prevention.
So, what can we do? Firstly, don’t litter, then:
- Use ocean-safe sunscreen.
- Buy plastic alternatives when buying consumer goods.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
- Demand change.
- Support clean-up organisations.
- Use our vote to give a voice to environmental issues.
- Eat and use less animal products.
Volunteering for MCS Great British Beach Clean events is a great way to do your bit for achieving these goals. This Great British Beach Clean week (17th-26th September 2021), I am excited to be taking part in The Big Hastings Beach Clean with Hastings Aquarium.
You can get involved with a beach clean near you by checking out the Marine Conservation Society website to find out where and when the events are taking place:
If you are local to Hastings and would like to join our event, then you can find the official event by clicking here: https://www.mcsuk.org/beach-cleans/the-big-hastings-beach-clean-25-09-2021/
Or visit the Facebook Events to register your interest: https://www.facebook.com/events/568538107650759
For best use of the collected data, the MCS request data from all 4 seasons. Hopefully this means that I will be able to take part in more beach clean events in the future and do my bit to reduce marine pollution. Taking part in and supporting these sorts of local, conservation and environmental initiatives is just one way that we can help the planet and live more sustainably. However, there are so many other ways that you can also help.
Why not take some time to research other ways to help the environment in your daily life? From reducing plastic, to dietary changes and finding alternatives to disposable items, there is always something that you can do.
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