World Oceans Day is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and examine how our lifestyles affect the health of our big, beautiful, blue planet. It’s easy to see your personal impact on the ocean when it is literally your backyard; but life on land provides us with far fewer reminders of our connection to the water. We forget that everyday should be treated like World Oceans Day, and that every day can be!! Lucky for us, there are about a million ways to celebrate our oceans! Here are a few to get you started…
1. Cut out single use plastics! Roughly eight million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year. This plastic never breaks down. Every single piece ever made still exists somewhere. Due to our steadily increasing production of a material that lasts forever, there is now plastic pollution floating on every single square mile of Earth’s ocean surface.
This poses a serious health threat to both marine animals and humans, as microplastics ingested by small fish quickly travel up the food chain and inevitably make their way into our seafood dinners. This means that even the freshest fillets of wild fish often come with an unwanted side of BPAs and DDT, along with a host of other carinogenic or mutanagetic chemicals found in plastic products.
Marine animals also face hazards such as choking on plastic trash or becoming fatally tangled in it. If an animal does manage to ingest plastic without choking, it can clog its digestive system so that it starves to death, like this pilot whale, found off the coast of Thailand with 80 plastic bags in its stomach.
We were all taught the chant “reduce, reuse, recycle!” in elementary school. Unfortunately, this is virtually the extent the environmental education most of us receive throughout the first twelve years of our schooling. Many people have taken this to mean that by recycling their plastic water bottles, they are living an eco-friendly lifestyle, blissfully unaware of the fact that only about 10% of the plastic produced in the United States actually gets recycled. Even plastic that does end up in recycling bins is often shipped overseas and then rejected by plants that cannot properly recycle plastic contaminated with food or other non-recyclable materials. In short, encouraging recycling as the solution to the plastic crisis is nothing more than treating one symptom of a much bigger problem: our dependence on single-use plastic products.
But how do we cut plastic out of our lives completely when it seems to be everywhere?…
•Invest in some reusable grocery bags. Plastic grocery bags are used once for about 15 minutes on average and then last forever either in a landfill or as pollution.
•Carry a reusable water bottle. Most cafes and takeout restaurants like McDonalds or Starbucks will refill these for free if you just ask. It will save you money and cut down on your plastic consumption!
•Take a reusable cup to coffee shops; sometimes they even give you a discount for bringing your own mug!
•Ask for no straw at restaurants. If you can’t live without them, buy a couple of reusable stainless steel straws to take along with you when you eat out.
•Bring your own container and utensils to take-out restaurants. It’s easy to carry a fork or spoon with you in your bag. I make a habit of doing this while I travel and it always comes in handy!
•Avoid synthetic clothing. Microplastics enter waterways when we wash and dry clothing made of polyester, polar fleece and other plastic-based fabrics. Opt for clothing made from organic materials instead. Hemp, linen and organic cotton are some great eco-friendly alternatives.
•Do not over-wash the synthetic clothing that you already have.
•Eat less processed/ packaged food. The more whole foods you eat, the slower your trash can fills up with plastic packaging. Fruits and vegetables come with their own edible wrappers! Even better… grow your own!
2. Eat less meat and dairy. Animal waste runoff from factory farms is the single greatest contributor to ocean dead zones. Dead zones form when excessive amounts of nitrates enter the sea water, which causes algae blooms that deplete the water of oxygen; essentially creating an area completely void of life (the largest of which is located in the Gulf of Mexico). Animal waste is full of the nutrients that cause these algeal blooms, not to mention large amounts of toxic antibiotics and hormones that these animals are fed, all of which get washed straight into nearby rivers and streams when it rains.
The sheer quantity of meat produced in the United States makes sustainable animal agriculture virtually impossible. There is no place for such massive amounts of animal waste to be safely disposed of, which means it inevitably ends up in our water ways, where it kills marine life and poses serious health threats to local communities.
In addition to polluting waterways, the animal agriculture industry emits more greenhouse gasses than all transportation combined, making it one of the leading contributors to both ocean acidification and climate change!
*Many people worry about not getting enough protein on a plant based diet. There are so many great sources of plant protein, including lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds and beans and even many vegetables and whole grains, like spinach, broccoli, oats, rice, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and so so so many more (too many to list!). It is almost impossible to be protein deficient without being malnourished; so if you are consuming enough calories from real, whole foods (not processed junk foods) then it is safe to say you are getting enough protein!
•If the thought of going vegetarian is inconceivable to you, try “meatless mondays,” or consider making one meal every day plant based!
•When you do eat animal products, buy local and organic meat and dairy.
3. Know where your seafood comes from. A study conducted by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in 2012 revealed that roughly two thirds of the world’s fish have been either overfished or depleted completely. Global fish consumption has only increased since 2012 and is not expected to slow down any time soon.
The ocean is an exceptionally difficult resource to regulate due to a phenomenon called “tragedy of the commons,” in which people act against the best interest of a community for their own short-term benefits, and deplete a communal resource (like seafood) as a result. The best way to stop the seafood industry from succumbing to this phenomenon is by using our influence as consumers to make sure fisheries are drawing life from the ocean responsibly and at a sustainable rate.
•The simplest and most effective way to decrease the amount of fish being pulled from the ocean is to decrease the amount of fish we consume! If you are reading this, it is likely that you have the resources to switch to a source of protein that is far less taxing on the environment. Not everyone is so lucky. Billions of people, mostly located in developing countries, rely on seafood as a primary source of protein. By choosing plant protein over fish protein, not only are we allowing fisheries to regenerate and ultimately become more profitable in the long run, we are also leaving fish in the ocean for people who do not view seafood as a luxury, but as a vital lifesource.
When you do eat seafood…
•Only buy line-caught fish to avoid paying for by-catch! If you aren’t sure whether or not a fish was line-caught and no one at the market or grocery store can tell you, it’s best to skip it.
•Use an app like Seafood Watch to help you choose the most sustainable fish on the menu or at the supermarket.
•Check the MSC website for lists of fish to avoid eating. The list includes fish that have been overfished, as well as those caught using unsustainable methods.
•Only buy fish that have grown to maturity. Do not buy fish that have not had the chance to reproduce.
•Eat local, seasonal fish and familiarize yourself with local fisheries.
•Look for the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo on all the seafood you purchase. In order to place this label on their products, fisheries must meet certain standards set by the MSC that ensure they are properly managed and have minimal environmental impact.
4. Lower your emissions! We have all heard of the climate crisis, and we all know that our excessive greenhouse gas emmissions are at least partially to blame for this phenomenon. But how do air pollutants and rising atmospheric temperatures effect our oceans?
For one thing, climate changes causes average sea temperatures to rise as well as average atmospheric temperatures. Rising sea temperatures cause coral reef bleaching, which is currently wiping out entire underwater ecosystems at an alarming rate.
The excessive amount of CO2 in our atmosphere also causes ocean acidification. When the ocean must absorb unnaturally large quantities of CO2, its PH is lowered to a point that is unsafe for marine life such as plankton (the base of the oceanic food chain) and shellfish, which cannot properly form their shells in acidic water.
Luckily there are about a million ways to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels!
•Eat local foods. The shorter your food has to travel to reach your table, the lower its carbon footprint.
•Ride your bike, walk, skate, or take public transport. When you do have to drive, combine multiple errands into one trip.
•Switch to renewable energy sources like solar power and replace appliances with energy efficient versions when they break. In the mean time, turn lights off when you leave a room, close your windows when the heat/AC is on, wash your clothes with cold water and dry them on the line instead of in a dryer. It’s easy to forget that we are using fossil fuels every time we flip on a light switch. Try being more conscious of your energy consumption to lower your emissions.
•Ditch meat and dairy. Refusing to support the greenhouse gas intensive cattle industry is by far the most effective way to lower your total environmental footprint. The truth is, it is just about impossible to be both a carnivore and an environmentalist these days.
5. Remember that every waterway is connected. Everything that goes down your street gutter eventually makes it’s way into the ocean, from cigarette butts to household pollutants, like car-wash soaps and lawn fertilizers.
•Only apply lawn fertilizer when rain is not expected for the next 24 hours.
•Look for phosphorus free fertilizer and never over-apply!
•Do not replace your lawn with atrificial grass or astro-turf. These materials absorb less rainfall than real plants, meaning more runoff flows from our streets to our oceans, picking up toxic chemicals and litter along the way.
•Use biodegradable soap when washing your car.
•Pick up litter and dispose of it properly. Keeping our streets clean keeps our ocean clean.
•If you are using products on your lawn or your car that you would not want to eat or even swim in, think twice, because it will make it’s way into your food chain!
I hope you join me in giving our oceans some much needed love by turning a few of these suggestions into daily habits! 🌊
If you have any tips or suggestions to add, comment them or shoot me a message!
Wishing you all fresh ocean air today and everyday 🙂