Out-of-sight, out-of-mind: it’s human nature. Unless we see a problem right in front of us, it’s hard to keep it in our thoughts.
When we think of problems with the ocean, we usually think of trash seen accumulating on the beach. But the ocean is a big place, covering 70% of the Earth’s surface, and the issues facing it are far more serious and widespread than the debris we see along our coastlines.
We Depend on the Oceans
How do the oceans impact YOU? Even if you live in Middle America, far away from the coastline, you depend on the ocean:
- The oceans produce at least 50% of all oxygen on the planet.
- The ocean acts as a “global thermostat,” taking in heat from the sun and keeping our planet’s temperature in relative balance.
- Seafood is a major source of food around the globe.
- Ocean-related industry is important for the global economy, providing revenue through fishing, seafood distribution, tourism, recreation and transportation.
- Biomedical products derived from marine plant and animal sources provide important health benefits.
Unfortunately, our oceans are in crisis, and the problems are so far-reaching and complicated that it was difficult for me to write about this succinctly. The environment is a passion of mine, and my goal with this post is to generally introduce a few major problems facing the ocean, and point you to some nonprofits working to solve them.
The problem of ocean pollution extends much further than what you see on our beaches.
Approximately 90% of ocean waste is plastic, which never decomposes – it just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, which enter the food chain when they are ingested by sea life. Over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic.
Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. This year we will add 14 billion pounds of trash to the ocean.
The good news is it’s really easy to make small changes that make a big impact. If you make one change in your life, please decrease your dependence on single-use plastics. The lid on your Starbucks cup or the plastic grocery bag you used for 15 minutes will never decompose. It will most likely end up in the ocean.
You may think you are doing enough simply by recycling your plastics—but unfortunately, plastic recycling is misleading. That “recycle” symbol on your coffee lid only identifies the type of plastic used and doesn’t indicate that something is recyclable. In fact, coffee lids and straws are usually not recyclable. The best thing you can do for our environment is to reuse: get a reusable coffee mug and water bottle, and carry reusable bags everywhere you go.
Learn more >> Watch the Bag It Documentary (streaming on Netflix!)
Read more >> The Price We Pay for Convenience | My Plastic Free Life
Make a difference >> Reduce your use of plastic
Make a difference >> Donate to Plastic Pollution Coalition
Other Types of Pollution
In addition to plastic pollution, the ocean is affected by air pollution, oil contamination, and human waste.
Over the last 250 years (since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution), oceans have absorbed 530 billion tons of carbon dioxide, generating a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity. A more acidic ocean could wipe out species, disrupt the food chain, and impact fishing, tourism and anything else that relies on the ocean.
Learn more about carbon dioxide >> Natural Resources Defense Council
Learn the effects of oil pollution >> Oceana
Learn about mercury in seafood >> Video – from Source to Seafood
Why you should choose not to cruise >> Cruise ship pollution
Make a difference >> Donate to Oceana
Overfishing & Sharks
“Apex” predators, such as sharks, are extremely sensitive to overfishing: They have few natural predators, are slow to mature, and have very few young. When an animal at the top of the food chain disappears, the rest of the ecosystem often spirals out of control. With declining large shark populations, smaller sharks, skates, and rays increase in numbers and their prey then plummets—eventually causing a collapse of the oceanic ecosystem.
In addition to the overfishing of predators, the seafood trade has led to the decimation of countless fish species. In order to meet the global demand for seafood, the industry is catching fish faster than they can reproduce.
Global Warming and Climate Change
Since the rise of the Industrial age, carbon dioxide emissions have increased drastically, resulting in a steady increase of the Earth’s temperature.
With rising temperatures, glaciers have started to melt, causing sea levels to rise; scientists estimate a rise of 4 to 36 inches in the next 100 years. Consider the impact: Worldwide, approximately 100 million people live within 36 inches (three feet) of sea level.
Global Warming also has a devastating effect on wildlife. Polar bears are completely dependent on ice—which they use for hunting and resting—for survival. They are now considered a threatened species, since they have to swim much further distances to find stable ice, and their main source of food (the ringed seal) is disappearing.
Unfortunately, I’ve only covered a small portion of the problems facing the ocean. We know less about our oceans than we do about outer space! Consequently, we likely underestimate its value and don’t fully understand the implications of the damage we are doing.
For more information, watch the Death of the Oceans documentary (the full film is online).
Did you learn something new, or have something to add? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook!
—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager