Why we need to protect our ocean...and why we need to do it now
For World Oceans Day 2020, the focus is on stimulating a global movement in order to generate support from world leaders to protect 30% of the world's ocean by 2030 - the campaign has been aptly named 30x30. So, what's the relevance of 30%? It's been established that by safeguarding at least 30% of our ocean via a network of highly protected areas, we can help ensure a healthy planet for not only marine life but also human life.
With a pandemic that has caused the largest disruption to the public health system globally, we don't realise just how intimately connected our health is to the ocean. Not only is the ocean the lungs to our planet, providing the most oxygen that we breathe but it's also a major source of food and medicine and critical to our survival.
Interestingly, the ocean is our ally against Covid-19. Bacteria found in the ocean depths are being used to carry out testing that detects the virus. With marine life rich in biodiversity and resources, the ocean has already provided treatments for diseases such as cancer, inflammation, and nerve damage. The diversity of species found in the ocean offers a treasure chest of pharmaceutical and natural products useful in combating illness and improving our quality of life.
The United Nations have dubbed 2021 to 2030 as the international decade for ocean science for sustainable development. Their aim is to bring all nations together to build critical knowledge in order to protect and sustain our planet and ocean.
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to the oceans health with rising temperatures making oceans hotter and promoting acidification which in turn has a devastating effect on marine life reproduction. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased significantly since the beginning of industrialisation, it is only through a reduction in CO2 emissions that can prevent seawater temperatures from rising further. Through each of us reducing our own carbon footprint, we can all participate in decelerating climate change.
It is crucial we reduce our waste, we reduce our reliance on plastic and reduce over consumption - making greater sustainable choices. We need designers and manufacturers to address the full lifecycle of a product - using alternative ingredients and materials free of harmful chemical additives, maximising regenerative resources and minimising waste. We need governments to embrace more effective recycling initiatives, diverting plastics away from landfill and ensuring they don’t end up in waterways. And with broken fishing nets accounting for almost half of all waste found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the global fishing industry needs to be held accountable in managing their waste.
By 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic — more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today. It’s widely known that plastic bags, bottles, and other toxic plastic waste making it's way in to our oceans every day, is detrimental to marine life.
There is already enough plastic in the ocean to circle the earth 425 times, and despite efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic products as well as the ban of single use plastics in some countries, it is predicted that plastic production will increase by 40% in the next ten years, risking permanent ecological damage.
Fossil fuel companies have invested more than $180 billion into building plastic production facilities, building more plastic production facilities in the next decade, goes against the trend of rising concerns over plastic use and production.
Packaging is the most dominant generator of plastic waste, responsible for almost half of the global total. It's estimated the ocean contains around 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, with a staggering 99.9% of floating marine debris made from plastic.
Even if we stopped ocean plastic waste in 2020, plastic would remain in the ocean for many more decades with existing microplastics and larger plastics continuing to breakdown. Any additional plastic waste will continue to compound the problem.
Plastic pollution, once in the ocean, moves readily around the planet. It travels on tidal flows and wind and in the stomachs of marine life. Plastic pollution can end up thousands of kilometres from the source, which is why this is a global problem that requires an urgent global response - we’re headed for an ecological disaster that will have an enormous effect on our economies and our health, if action isn’t taken soon.
The ocean is not only the home of many species but it's also our lifeline - surely that is worth preserving!