Environment

How you can act on ocean pollution this World Oceans Day

Ocean pollution is one of the key threats to the vitality of global seas, from plastic to sewage and oil spills. Here's what you can do to take action.

Fish among corals

All life on Earth depends on the vitality of the oceans. (Image: Pixabay)

World Oceans Day is celebrated each year to remind us of the vital importance of the world’s seas and renew the call for an end to ocean pollution.

Oceans cover an enormous 70 per cent of the world’s surface, and produce half of all the oxygen we breathe, making them a vital part of life on Earth. 

Yet over the past few decades, human activities have severely damaged the world’s oceans and the lifeforms that live in them, with plastic pollution now found in even the most remote parts of the sea bed. 

All is not lost, however. We still have a chance to reverse ocean pollution and improve the future for all life on the planet. Here’s all you need to know about the world’s oceans, and the steps you can take to improve their health.

What is World Oceans Day?

World Oceans Day has been marked every year since 1992 as a way to celebrate the world’s seas and the vital role it plays in the vitality of all life on Earth.

Oceans don’t just provide a vital source of oxygen to the world – they’re also a key resource for food and medicines to humans around the world.

In addition to this, oceans are able to absorb vast amounts of CO2, mitigating some of the warming effect created by the release of greenhouse gases. 

Each year, World Oceans Day has a different theme to highlight one important aspect of the world’s seas.

This year’s theme is “Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean”, chosen to highlight the critical importance of reversing human damage to global seas

What damage has been done to the ocean? 

Human activity has created numerous threats to the vitality of oceans. 

Ocean pollution is one of the most pressing threats created by humans, and comes from a variety of sources.

Many pesticides and nutrients used in agriculture end up in the sea, starving the water of oxygen and killing the lifeforms that depend on it.

Oil spills, plastics, and sewage are other key sources of ocean pollution, and all present threats to biodiversity in water bodies across the globe. 

Without action on plastic pollution in particular, it’s estimated that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish populations. 

Overfishing has also severely depleted fish stocks and upset the balance of ocean ecosystems. According to the UN, around 90 per cent of big fish populations have been destroyed as a result of human activities.

Particular fishing methods such as bottom trawling can also have devastating impacts on other marine life as well as disturbing the ocean floor and releasing CO2 locked into it. 

As the planet has warmed, ocean temperatures have increased, creating threats to certain life forms which are sensitive to temperature increases. Coral reefs, for instance, have been destroyed at an alarming rate by higher sea temperatures.

What are the main sources of plastic pollution in the ocean? 

Plastic is one of the most visible and abundant forms of ocean pollution, with at least 14 million tonnes of the material ending up in global seas every year.

It’s estimated to make up around 80 per cent of all marine debris found in the oceans, from fragments floating on the surface to microplastics found on the sea bed.

It’s estimated that around 80 per cent of the plastic polluting the oceans comes from various sources on land, whether discarded plastic bottles or sewage runoff

The remaining 20 per cent of ocean plastic pollution originates from fishing activities, such as “ghost equipment” dumped in the sea by fishing vessels. 

Why is plastic pollution in the ocean dangerous? 

Plastic is extremely harmful to animal life that depends on the oceans, as birds, whales, fish and turtles can all mistake plastic for food. 

These animals can die of starvation as a result of ingesting plastic due to their stomachs being full of the material. Plastic can also cause injury or entanglement.

Plastics break down in the sea and become “microplastics”, small enough to penetrate human lungs and even wombs, with microplastics recently discovered in human embryos.

We don’t fully understand the effects of ingesting plastic, but it’s believed that microplastics can cause health complications and even lead to early death in humans. 

How can I act on ocean pollution? 

Luckily, acting on ocean pollution starts with you – and there are plenty of easy ways you can help.

The easiest way to act on ocean pollution is to start being more conscious about your own plastic consumption, avoiding buying or using single use plastic items wherever possible. 

If you must use plastic, try to think of new ways to use the item at home afterwards before throwing it away or recycling it. 

Old yoghurt pots could become plant pots, for instance, or you could use old plastic bottles to make bird feeders. 

If this isn’t possible, always try to recycle your plastic items rather than throwing them away. You should check with your local authority what you’re permitted to recycle at home and what you might have to take elsewhere to recycle. 

Reducing pollutants in the cleaning or gardening products you use can also help reduce ocean pollution. Choosing non-toxic, non-chemical products will help avoid harmful chemicals entering the oceans in runoff. 

Avoiding fish in your diet – or ensuring fish you do buy is sustainably sourced – is another way to avoid contributing to ocean plastic and overfishing in the world’s seas. 

Beyond individual actions, you can also push for change on a wider scale. A number of businesses across the UK are signed up to the “Plastics Pact”, which is a voluntary target to eliminate single-use plastic and ensure all packaging is reusable or recyclable. 

If your local supermarket or shop isn’t signed up to this, you could consider writing to them or campaigning to encourage them to take part. 

Speaking with or writing to your MP to ask them to lobby the government is another way to push for change on a wider scale. The free “write to them” service offers an easy way to do this online.
The government is consulting on environmental targets, including targets on plastic pollution, until the end of June. They’re asking for people’s views on these targets and you can give yours at this link.

And, here are some more top tips from Raffi Schieir, director of the Prevented Ocean Plastic programme:

Rethink your food shop

Wasted food means all the energy, fuel and water that went into its production is lost and, as it decomposes in landfill, it also emits greenhouse gases which have a significant impact on climate change, causing heat to be trapped in our atmosphere. This means the oceans are absorbing more heat, causing an increase in sea surface temperatures and rising sea level.

You can limit food waste at home by planning meals in advance. Where possible, choose loose fruit and vegetables to avoid having spare items that you don’t need and won’t use. Factoring in some meat-free days is another great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Keep our beaches clean

We urgently need to stop plastic pollution reaching our oceans and we can all play a part. Those lucky enough to live by the sea can take part in beach cleans, picking up litter before it can get into the waterways. You can head out on your own with a bin bag and spend half an hour litter picking, or why not take part in an organised group beach clean with a group like Surfers Against Sewage?

Whenever we visit the seaside, we can all play our part by making sure to take all our rubbish away with us and recycling it

Look out for the Prevented Ocean Plastic logo

Prevented Ocean Plastic is award-winning recycled plastic material made from waste plastic collected from coastal areas at risk of ocean plastic pollution. Choosing Prevented Ocean Plastic means you are stopping plastic from polluting the oceans and damaging the environment and wildlife. You’re reducing CO2 emissions by cutting the use of virgin plastic and are helping to ensure a reliable income for people working in developing countries.

You can spot products packaged in Prevented Ocean Plastic by looking out for its distinctive blue logo on pack.

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