Plastic Oceans

Oceans.

The vast stretches of beautiful waters we see in stock images and travel websites. The blue-green shades of coolness, a simple sight of which can make your worries and weariness disappear. Homes to tides and waves which wash your feet at the beaches and shores.

"As free as the oceans", there is a saying. But honestly, we've held our waters captive to our mindless development.

While there is only one global ocean, the vast body of water that covers 71% of the Earth is geographically divided into distinct named regions. There are four named oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. However, most countries now recognise the Southern (Antarctic) as the fifth ocean.

This article touches upon the following topics:

  1. How are Oceans important to us?
  2. What is happening to our Oceans?
  3. Why is everyone talking about Plastics in the Oceans?
  4. How does Plastic affect Marine Life?
  5. How does Plastic affect Humans?
  6. What if the oceans disappeared?
  7. What is World Oceans Day?
  8. What Challenges do we face in Preserving the Oceans?
  9. How can we save our Oceans?

How are Oceans important to us?

Our distance from the oceans is no barrier to how they affect our lives. It provides for food (sorry, vegans!), transportation (for tourism, travel and shipping), mining of minerals and drilling for crude oil.

  • They occupy close to 75% of our planet's space.
  • They hold 97% of our planet's water.
  • About 93% of carbon dioxide is stored under the waters.
  • They produce more than 50% of the atmospheric oxygen.
  • About 50% of the world's population lives within the coastal zone.
  • They regulate the Earth's climate.
  • Ocean-based businesses contribute more than $500 billion to the global economy.

What is happening to our Oceans?

Us, humans, have a long history of over-exploiting our resources and we haven't been any bit partial to the oceans. These changes are impairing the ocean's capacity to provide food, protect livelihoods, maintain clean water, and recover from environmental stresses like severe storms. 40% of the world's oceans have been drastically affected. The most severely affected areas are the North Sea, South and East China Seas, Carribean, Mediterranean, Red Sea, the Gulf, the Bering Sea, the East Coast of North America and the Western Pacific [Source].

  • Results of our actions have degraded the marine habitats and reduced biodiversity:
  • Overfishing is driving some marine populations close to extinction.
  • Carbon emissions are making the waters poisonous, failing in the reproductive abilities of marine animals.
  • Water Oxygen levels are depleting.
  • Rising global temperatures are killing the coral reefs.
  • Melting of the ice caps is altering the ecosystems.
  • Land waste eventually reaches the oceans via littering, sewage, mining, oil spills, runoffs, air pollutants, and transportation.

Approximately 4 billion pounds of trash per year enters the ocean. 80% of this is from land-based sources, including individuals, industry and improper waste management/infrastructure. Only 20% is the result of ocean-based sources, such as the fishing, shipping, and cruise ship industries.

There is an island of garbage twice the size of Texas inside the Pacific Ocean: the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California. It is the largest oceanic garbage site in the entire world. And Texas is 695,662 km² in area.

Why is everyone talking about Plastics in the Oceans?

Plastics are the most common element found in the ocean today. They do not biodegrade but instead break down into smaller pieces and are often mistaken as food by marine animals. Animals who eat plastic often starve because they can't digest the plastic and it fills their stomachs, preventing them from eating real food.

Plastics and the Oceans

A recent survey found ocean pollution is more common in deep waters (more than 2,000 feet deep), with the most common offenders being plastic bags, metal cans, fishing equipment, glass bottles, shoes, tires, etc. The 5 most common items found in coastal cleanups around the world are all single-use plastics: plastic cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, and plastic straws and drink stirrers.

  • Approximately every square mile of ocean has more than 45,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
  • By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).
  • According to a study done by the University of Georgia, 18 billion pounds of plastic trash winds up in our oceans each year.
  • At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year.  That's one garbage truck of plastic emptying into an ocean every minute.
  • There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.
  • There are 25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.

Plastics and the World

Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Here are some numbers that talk about how much plastic is being produced and consumed:

  • 322 million tons of plastic were produced in 2015, half of which was for single use.
  • That's the weight of 900 Empire State Buildings, made of granite and steel.
  • Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide.
  • More than one million bags are used every minute.
  • Packaging, the largest contributor, accounts for a little over 40% of the total plastic usage.

Plastic Beverage Bottles

According to the Container Recycling Institute (2014):

  • 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. That's 315 bottles per person.
  • 57% of those units were plastic water bottles: 57.3 billion sold.  Up from 3.8 billion plastic water bottles in 1996 (earliest available data).
  • The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle as there is in the container.
  • 14% of all litter comes from beverage containers. When caps and labels are considered, the number is higher.
  • Plastic water bottles use 17 million barrels of crude oil annually to make those that are consumed in the United States alone.

Watch Stand by the Sea - A Film in Honour of World Oceans Day.

How does Plastic affect Marine Life?

  • Over 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic entanglement and ingestion. 15% of these species are endangered. By 2050, an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
  • Ocean pollution affects more than 817 animal species around the world, a figure that has increased 23% in the last 5 years alone.
  • There are dead zones in the oceans that have been created by pollution, making life in those zones impossible for marine or plant life.
  • More than 50% of sea turtles have consumed plastic.
  • At the North Pacific Gyre (the largest oceanic garbage site in the entire world), the number of floating plastic pieces in the water outnumbers total marine life 6:1 in the immediate vicinity.
  • Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of marine life. Marine plastic, after coming in contact with coral, increases its chances of becoming diseased from 4% to 89%.

How does plastic affect Humans?

Toxins from plastic are entering our food chain, threatening human health.

 

"You are not a drop in the Ocean. You are the entire Ocean in a Drop."  Rumi

Take that quote, merge it with the text above, and think about what kind of ocean you are.

What if the Oceans disappeared?

  • Without 97% of the Earth's water gone, there would be hardly anything left to evaporate, form clouds and cause rain. This, eventually, could turn the planet into a desert. Everything going dry and hot could cause massive fires, leading to deaths due to burning or accelerated global warming (due to carbon dioxide being released from the trees).
  • Oxygen levels would drop to about 50%.
  • Millions of people relying on seafood would have nothing to eat.

Earth's only survivors would be small colonies of chemosynthetic bacteria hidden underground in hot springs. Without oceans, everyone else dies. [Source]

What is World Oceans Day?

Here's what United Nations has to say:

We celebrate World Oceans Day to remind everyone of the major role the oceans have in everyday life. They are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. 

The purpose of the Day is to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilise and unite the world's population on a project for the sustainable management of the world's oceans. In the end, it is a day to celebrate together the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the ocean.

"Only 2.8% of the world ocean is protected."

Coordinated and promoted internationally by The Ocean Project since 2002, World Oceans Day is an annual celebration on June 8. As of 2009, World Oceans Day has been officially recognised by the United Nations. The World Oceans Day Theme for 2018 is 'Clean Our Ocean'.

What Challenges do we face in Preserving the Oceans?

  • Bringing sustainable management to high seas, that cover almost 45% of Earth's surface.
  • Massive amounts of fish are stolen from areas that do not have jurisdiction over their own waters.
  • Ending and recovering from marine debris.
  • Protecting critical ocean habitats.
  • Ending marine wildlife trafficking.
  • Reviving dead zones, ocean deoxygenation and nutrient runoff.

How can we save our Oceans?

There's hope. To reverse the effect is both, tiring and time-taking. A few years ago, we did not carry our phones everywhere with us, it became a habit over time.

  • Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Research. Reduce or omit plastics (and more specifically, single-use plastics like water bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws, etc.) from your lifestyle. Choose recycled or up-cycled products like burlap bags, stainless steel straws, keep cups, etc. Prevent using soap with micro beads that wash straight down our drains and destroy our water systems and the ocean. If you must use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics. Research before making purchases.
  • Reduce your Carbon Footprint Eat green, drive green, and use green energy.
  • Choose Responsible Foods Go vegan, or choose foods which are not overexploited or unsustainable. Read pet food labels and consider seafood sustainability when choosing a diet for your pet. Never flush dog/cat litter, which can contain pathogens harmful to marine life.
  • Clean up Our planet is our home. Let's pick up waste?-?wherever, whenever, whatever?-?and appropriately dispose of it.
  • Avoid items which exploit marine life
  • Travel Responsibly and avoid damage to the local ecosystem.
  • Go Digital No need for plastic cds, DVDs and jewel cases when you can buy your music and videos online.
  • Educate, Influence and Spread the Word.
  • Volunteer wherever you can.
  • Sign petitions to enforce bans on plastics.
  • Support organisations working to protect the Oceans.
  • Vote for people who stand up for this cause.
  • Don't blame others We are ALL responsible. Don't place the blame on large companies. They supply because we demand.

"Every Drop in the Ocean counts." Yoko Ono.

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References:

nationalgeographic.com

ecowatch.com

plasticoceans.org

rubiconglobal.com

earthday.org

marinebio.org

protectplanetocean.org