Posted July 19, 2020
Written by Kyla Isakson
Oceans worldwide are struggling due to human impacts such as plastic pollution, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, whaling, climate change, overfishing, offshore drilling, and underwater noise to name a few. It is our responsibility as the human race to clean up the messes we have made, and it will take the efforts of everyone to improve these conditions. Efforts such as beach cleanups, scientific research, fisheries management, and reducing carbon emissions are attempting to better understand and reduce these impacts.
Many issues revolving around plastic pollution tie into sanitation and convenience. Especially during this time, many places are limiting the use of reusable items to reduce contamination, which makes it easier and safer to use disposable items like gloves, face masks, cups, and plastic bags. Single-use plastics can also be considered more convenient because it is easier to not bring or remember reusable items. Common plastic items found in the oceans and on beaches include straws, cups, beverage bottles, bottle caps, plastic bags, cigarette filters, and e-cigarette cartridges. In addition to these plastic items, millions of pieces of microplastics are found on beaches and in the oceans. These microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastic that have broken down from larger pieces. When plastics break down in the ocean, they do not truly disappear; they are only broken down into smaller pieces that we can not easily see without the use of a microscope. This is a serious issue because plankton and other small organisms will mistake these small plastic pieces as food, which disrupts their digestion and can cause these organisms to perish. These plastics can also release chemicals that accumulate in their tissues, and these chemicals can be transferred to larger fish and humans that consume these contaminated fish. This in turn greatly effects how the ocean ecosystem functions.
We understand life can sometimes be difficult and world issues, like ocean health, can be hard to handle. Being mindful of your emotions is a good way to cope with all that is happening. Be kind to yourself. If you need something to help you recenter, you can practice mindfulness. This can be in the form of a nature walk, meditation, or being aware of the decisions we make and how we can make changes to reduce the stresses on the marine environment. Below are some suggestions on how we all can make better choices to reduce our impact on the oceans.
What can you do to reduce your impact on the ocean?
– Skip the Straw Skip the Straw has become a more popular way to reduce plastic waste with the recent emergence of viral videos of sea turtles suffering from straws stuck in their nostrils. Millions of plastic straws are used every year, and many are found in the oceans and on beaches. Refusing a plastic straw is a great first step, and buying a reusable straw is a great alternative to this single-use plastic. Then the next time you grab a coffee at your local coffee shop, remember to bring your reusable straw!
– Use reusable cups, cutlery, and water bottles In addition to using a reusable straw instead of a plastic straw, consider skipping disposable cups altogether! When it is safe to do so, remember to bring your reusable cup, straw, and utensils the next time you stop for coffee or travel. Another idea is to purchase a large jug of juice, water, iced tea, or coffee and fill a reusable water bottle to bring with you instead of spending a few dollars a day on a cup of coffee or a bottle of water/juice. This will save you money and time, and it will reduce the amount of single-use plastic bottles you consume.
Making the switch to reusable items does not necessarily mean that you need to buy all new things; you can use your travel coffee cup for water or other drinks, and you can use utensils you already own instead of buying trendy bamboo ones. Do what works best for you and know that your effort is having a positive impact on the environment.
– Support local businesses Supporting local shops, restaurants, and farm stands is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment. Choosing to shop at stores closer to home uses less fuel for transportation of goods and releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and therefore less into the oceans. Read our past blog about reducing your impacts on the environment during COVID-19.
You can also contribute to local environmental non-profit organizations. These organizations work to conserve natural resources, educate the public, advocate for change, and contribute to research. Although Giving Tuesday Now has passed, giving back to the community happens year round. For ideas of ways to give back to The Wareham Land Trust, read our Giving Tuesday Now article.
– Use reef-friendly sunscreen Many of the active ingredients in sunscreen can accumulate in the tissues of coral, which may lead to bleaching events and death. To reduce the amount of chemicals from sunscreen in the oceans, avoid products that contain active ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, and nano-Zinc oxide (Click here for more information from NOAA regarding sunscreen and the ocean).
– Use reusable bags Reusable bags are a great way to reduce waste. Think about how many bags you use during one shopping trip and how often you go shopping. If just one person were to use reusable bags, this would remove hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic bags from landfills and the marine and terrestrial environment. These bags can also be used for more than just grocery shopping; you can use them as a beach bag, lunch box, day bag, or anything else that might require you to carry a few things.
On March 25th, Governor Baker issued guidelines for grocery stores to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19, which included the ban of reusable shopping bags; on June 10, new guidelines were released and the previous order was rescinded, therefore, reversing the ban on reusable bags (Visit Mass.gov for more information). Some stores are still refusing the use of reusable bags, so an alternative option is to ask for paper over plastic bags.
– Reduce runoff
- Pick up pet waste: Pet waste is considered raw sewage, and it can contain twice as much bacteria as human waste. When this waste is left in neighborhoods or on trails, it can wash away and the bacteria is released into waterways and aquifers without being treated like other waste. This bacteria can be harmful to humans and other animals. Be sure to pick up your pet waste and dispose of it properly in a trash can. Please do not leave waste or throw waste bags in sewer drains. (Learn more about how pet waste impacts the South Shore here)
- Limit use of fertilizers: Use of fertilizers can lead to eutrophication, which is when excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are washed away into waterways and aid in the growth of algae. Heavy rain can wash away the nutrients from your lawn and agricultural land into storm drains, rivers, lakes, and oceans. The excess growth of algae can block sunlight from reaching the plants growing in that water source, which causes them to die and as they decay dissolved oxygen in the water is depleted. Low oxygen levels in the water can kill other organisms. Limiting your use of fertilizers on your lawn, especially before heavy rainfall, can limit the amount of nutrients that are washed away into surrounding waterways. (Learn more about nutrient pollution here)
– Carry In, Carry Out Whether you’re at the beach, walking a trail, or just walking around your neighborhood, please do not leave your trash behind. Animals can mistake trash for food, and this can greatly harm them. If you’re feeling extra helpful and dedicated to the cause, you can participate in individual beach and trail cleanups on your own during this time of social distancing. If you choose to do so, remember that your health and safety are our #1 priority, so please use gloves and good judgement when picking up litter. We require all hikers on our trails to follow our trail etiquette and physical distancing guidelines.
We all can do our part to reduce human impacts on the marine environment. One small change in your behavior can make a big difference.
It’s also important to be kind to yourself. It’s okay if you forget your reusable bags at home or you need to buy something from a large store or corporation; change does not happen overnight. It takes time to get into a new routine, and you need time to adjust. You do not have to tackle all of these changes at once; take your time and be aware of the changes you are making. If we all do our part, we can protect the environment.
I encourage you all to research more about how the oceans are being affected by human impacts and find a way that you can be involved in reducing these impacts. To better understand how ocean acidification affects marine life, try this simple experiment! from EisforEXPLORE!
-2 jars or large cups, one filled with water and one filled with vinegar
-2 medium-sized seashells
- Fill one cup with tap water
- Fill one cup with vinegar
- Place one shell in each cup
- Check back in 1.5-2 hours
What happened? How do the two shells compare?
Note: This experiment shows the effects on shell forming organisms if ocean acidification greatly increases. Shells do break down, but not at the rate demonstrated by this experiment.