It’s our responsibility to keep the oceans clean and, so far, we suck at it. Most of us don’t know we harm the ocean with ordinary things we do every day. Best of all, they’re things that are easy to stop doing, or to do better.
What’s at Stake
There’s still time to save the oceans—and our sushi menu—by being a little more careful. The next ten years is critical to the survival of the seas. Think one person can’t make a difference? You’re probably right. It will take a lot of concerned, informed people committed to making changes, and big companies need to get on board, too. One person willing to speak out can make an impact. Here’s what you can do to make a significant environmental impact on your own, at home, or in your personal life.
Put simply, if the oceans die, we die. Oceans cover more than 70% of the earth, and provide 50% to 85% of the oxygen in the air we breathe. More than 97% of the world’s water is in the ocean, and about one-sixth of the protein in our diets comes from fish and shellfish. Fresh water is becoming scarce in some areas, like California, and desalinating ocean water is our best long-term solution.
We -all of us- need to make some changes, and fast. Here are some small things with the potential to make a big difference.
Don’t Buy Products that Contain “Microbeads”
Microbeads are tiny bits of plastic added to products you use to scrub and exfoliate, like body wash and toothpaste. They’re too small for water filtration and processing plants to clean them out of the water, and millions of tiny beads wind up in our rivers, streams, and other waterways, which eventually carries them out to the ocean. There, fish and other sea life mistake them for food and eat them, and to boot, the plastic the beads are made of is toxic to the marine environment.
President Obama signed a law in 2015 that prohibits the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetic products that have microbeads. The law takes effect in July 2017, and bans the sale of the products starting in January of 2018. However, that means many microbead-carrying products will still be on store shelves for another year. That is, unless people stop buying them. If manufacturers can’t sell them, they’ll stop making them much sooner.
If you can’t imagine life without exfoliating cleansers, find one made from organic materials like sea salt, sugar, or ground walnut shells, or make your own, but honestly, you don’t need them at all.
Eat Sustainable Fish
Certain types of fish are so popular, they are dying out from overfishing. If you like your fish and want to eat them too, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a free app, Seafood Watch (for iOS and Android), you can download and use at restaurants or at the grocery store. It will help you find a seafood market or restaurant near you with sustainable fish, learn whether your favorite sushi is sustainable, and get recommendations for sustainable fish you might like if one you love is a bad choice for the environment.
Don’t Wash Your Car at Home
Consider all the stuff that washes off your car, and where it goes. If you wash your car at home, you’re washing oil, grease, and fluids like antifreeze and transmission fluid into the sewer, where it flows untreated to the waterways. Most states require professional car washes to limit water use and route used water to a treatment facility or septic system, where it’s filtered.
If you must wash your car at home, this list of tips from Care2 is full of ways to keep the process as clean and environmentally friendly as possible. For example, you can choose biodegradable cleaning products, use as little water as possible, and park your car on gravel or grass, so the waste goes into the ground instead of the sewer.
Help Clean up the Beach
You love the beach anyway, right? Volunteer to attend cleanup events with an organization like Surfrider, or just pick up trash every time you go. Carry a reusable trash bag and pick up any trash you see. It’s a quick and simple way to get involved.
Similarly, if you don’t live near a beach, don’t neglect your local rivers, lakes, and waterways. Check with your local environmental authority, either down at City Hall or (preferably) on the web. They likely have programs to get people involved with waterway cleanup, and regular volunteering events where everyone gets together to clean up the shore. A few hours makes a huge difference.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Don’t buy one-use products, like disposable plastic water bottles, if you can avoid it. Lightweight non-recyclable packaging winds up in the sea, is carried by birds, gets blown by the wind, or drifts on waterways or through sewer systems into those waterways. Used unrecyclable and non biodegradable Keurig cups alone could circle the earth about 12 times. Reusable cups are available, but not popular.
The sheer volume of floating plastic waste in the ocean is staggering. One collection of garbage floating in the North Pacific Ocean has grown so big that scientists named it The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s about the size of Texas, and it’s 90% plastic. To visualize the size and scope of the ocean trash problem, check out this interactive world map.
Americans alone throw away 10.5 million tons of plastic trash per year, and recycle less than 2% of it. Even worse, Plastic doesn’t just degrade. Nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists.
There’s another, more selfish bonus to cutting down on disposable packaging and products. You’ll save money when you buy in bulk and pack your snacks in a reusable lunch bag or trendy bento box, and travel mugs that keep your drinks hot or cold beat styrofoam cups by a mile.
You already know smoking is bad for you and the people around you, but do you know how bad cigarettes are for the environment? When cigarette butts get wet, chemicals poisonous to sea life, like arsenic, acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, and toluene leach out into the surrounding water. Birds and fish eat them, and you can guess where all of those waste chemicals end up. Plus, the filters contain plastic. They may be small, but the 4.5 trillion cigarettes people smoke every single day around the globe can add up to 1.6 billion pounds of toxic trash per year, and a lot of it winds up in the ocean.
It’s not easy to quit smoking, but it is so worth it, if not for yourself and the people closest to you, but also for the environment at large. If the environment isn’t enough reason, consider how much money you’ll save, and how much you’ll save in insurance, too, If you’re looking for a plan to quit, check out smokefree.gov, and if you’re looking to support someone who’s trying to quit, we have some tips for you here.
Re-Paint Your Boat
You may not have a boat, but just in case you do (or know someone who does), this is a small change you can make with a big impact. The anti-fouling paint used on the bottom of boats is usually toxic…on purpose. It’s formulated to prevent marine life, like barnacles and plants, from sticking to it.
Most hull paints rely on copper to keep boat bottoms clean. The EPA discovered that copper levels in harbors and marinas are elevated far above acceptable standards. In U.S. waters alone, there are 16,824,000 boats of every size and description, and most of them have copper-based anti-fouling paint. The EPA recommends that you find a paint that’s non-toxic instead.
Learn and Advocate
One World One Ocean is an advocacy group and team of filmmakers dedicated to raising awareness about the issues that face our oceans. They produce beautiful IMAX® films that draw you in and teach you about the environmental issues that might otherwise go unreported. Check with your local museum, IMAX Theatres, aquariums, and science centers to find a movie, and take your friends. Change begins with education.
The goal of One World One Ocean is to spread awareness, and that’s something anyone can do. To boot, by spreading awareness of the project, sharing their videos, you help inform other people. Tell your friends, and they’ll tell their friends, and pretty soon we’re all in it together.
Drop a Few Bucks on a Good Cause
While individual people like you and I can certainly make a difference, there are larger threats to the oceans and environment in general from overfishing, commercial waste, illegal and international dumping, and international sailing companies that use the oceans as infinite wastebaskets and toilets.
Here’s a list of organizations committed to changing that, where you can donate, find ways to volunteer, and learn more:
The oceans face challenges on every front. Commercial farming creating oxygen-depleted “dead zones” through overuse of fertilizer, commercial vessels using the ocean as their personal dumping ground, global warming creating more CO2 than ocean plants can process, oil spills threatening whole ecosystems, overfishing, and the temperature of the ocean disrupting migratory patterns and underwater ecology all contribute to the declining health of our most important resource.
For something that gives us so much, the least we can do is make better choices. No one can save the oceans alone, but every one of us can do our part, and help spread the word.