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Celebrating the environment on World Oceans Day

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Oceans are integral to the sustenance of human life, writes Edward Hull.

EVERY JUNE 8th, the world unites to honour World Oceans Day.

It's a concept originally proposed in 1992 by Canada's International Centre for Ocean Development and the Ocean Institute of Canada. The day is now celebrated by people around our blue planet.

World Oceans Day aims to encourage communities to start creating a better future together. Using events to inform the public of our impact on the ocean to spur a worldwide movement to promote the sustainable management of this precious resource. A thriving marine environment is critical to global health.

Our oceans are the lungs of our planet: releasing most of the oxygen people breathe, providing us with fish to eat, a stable climate, a natural water source and a plethora of medicines.

The plastic pollution pandemic

Walk along any river bank, beachfront, or marine location: it’s near-guaranteed you will find at least one piece of plastic. Since the introduction of the first polyethene bag in the 1960s, the reliance on single-use plastic has grown. Not only does around 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year but they break down into smaller pieces with particles of micro-plastics — eventually finding their way into the food chain.

We’re polluting the oceans, destroying natural marine habitats and causing untold damage on our own health.

The North Pacific Ocean – the vast body of water between Japan and the United States – is now the most polluted of the world's oceans, holding an estimated two trillion pieces of plastic; or one-third of the total plastic found in the oceans, today.

The effect of plastic on marine life and the oceans

Plastic not only sinks to the depths of the ocean, it directly impacts the marine life that lives there. The heads of the United Nations Environment Progamme warn of an impending ‘ocean Armageddon’ unless we phase out our reliance on single-use items such as bags, bottles, straws, and cutlery.

On recent estimations, an upward of 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year as a result of eating plastic. Scientists exploring the deepest ocean trenches in Japan, the Hebrides, and Chile have found plastics in every nook.

More worryingly, when testing the wildlife that lives there, 100 per cent of creatures in one spot had plastic in their gut.

How much plastic do we consume?

Researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory recently studied the digestive tract of market-bought shrimp to ascertain what it had consumed. A small application of red dye immediately flagged a startling insight: seven pieces of plastic in the stomach of one shrimp bought for human consumption.

This is not uncommon. Scientists have found plastic fibres, fragments and micro-beads in both ocean-going and freshwater fish, wild-caught and farmed. 114 species are known to have plastic in their stomachs; more than half of which we freely eat for dinner.

Species such as plankton, bivalves, fish and whales regularly consume microplastics as they look just like their food, clogging digestive tracts, impeding appetite, altering feeding behaviour and affecting both growth and reproductive capability.

Which plastics should we avoid?

A plastic bag has an average usable life of just 12 minutes but will survive in the marine environment for thousands of years, including in the digestive tract of a whale. The U.S. has slowly introduced legislation to outlaw single-use bags in several states, but as shown in the map below, efforts could stretch much further.

If we re-use plastic, it becomes less of a concern: unless it is the type to contain BPA. Bisphenol A is a hormone-disrupting material linked to autism, birth defects, and reproductive issues.

Remember to check any plastic used and avoid anything suggesting BPA, particularly in children’s cups and bottles which frequently include the compound.

Another way to know which plastics to avoid is by checking the number contained in the recycling triangle. The main ones to remove from one's routine are:

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Contains di-2-Ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), an endocrine disruptor and possible carcinogen.
  • Polystyrene (PS): It can leach styrene, another endocrine disruptor, and probable carcinogen, into food.
  • Polycarbonate: contains BPA.

When it comes to recyclable plastics, this is dependent on your location. They should be rinsed, then disposed of in the appropriate recycling bins for collection by local authorities. 

How can workplaces help protect the oceans for the future?

Fixing the situation starts at the top, and so we should set the right agenda to encourage positive behaviour.

Even if plastic is vital to daily operations, we can encourage sustainable behaviour by providing recycling bins for plastics, paper and other waste. If you are concerned about the lack of engagement, implement a policy to ensure those around you make use of the amenities provided.

Food wrappers often use a plastic type which is not readily-recyclable. If we are forced to purchase lunch from food outlets, this means having to buy single-use plastics. However, by getting creative in your kitchen facilities, you can make the most of eating healthy whilst reducing the consumption of environmentally unfriendly plastics.

Whether in the products sold, communications sent, or even at the water dispenser; there are multiple areas you can reduce your reliance on plastic. Minimising packaging where possible, encouraging the use of reusable drinks bottles and providing plates, cutlery, and cups is valuable.

There are also many ways for businesses to get involved in World Oceans Day. Whether they choose to plan your an event or attend one organised by others. The options are endless. You can even download plastic pollution resources and promotional materials to help raise awareness. No matter what you do – every action has an impact.

Your chance to help save the planet

World Oceans Day offers everyone the chance to help protect the ocean and deliver a better future for us all. It’s your chance to join with others around a single focus. Why not use this June 8th to better acquaint yourself with the challenges ahead.

Speak with others about what the ocean means to you as well as how its ongoing health will benefit us all for years to come.

It's also a great opportunity to learn. People can explore the wealth of beautiful marine creatures that live in the seas and how our daily consumer habits are affecting them all.

Of course, the Day offers an opportunity to get involved. Everything is interconnected, and we are all linked to – and through – the ocean. If you take care of it in any way you can by working with your community, you become a champion of our planet.

As each of us has a responsibility to ensure the oceans remain healthy for generations to come – so, make this World Oceans Day count.

Edward Hull is a writer who works for Waterlogic.

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Celebrating the environment on World Oceans Day

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