Sun, Sand, and Surf……The three things that define my life. I’ve always lived near the sea, so I learned pretty early to love it, live around it, and protect it.
The ocean has been my passion. When the waves are too big, and swimming isn’t possible, skateboarding on the empty road is the next best thing. Cruising along with the wind in my hair, and making fun videos of my little adventures is worth every minute of the experience.
Lately, however, things have been changing. The ocean and the beaches are not the same. There’s always ‘stuff’ we swim through these days, and the beaches are dirty. Each year, we seem to be getting more and more tolerant of the increasing levels of ocean pollution.
Each year, we seem to be getting more and more tolerant of the increasing levels of ocean pollution. Plastic bottles, pieces of fishing nets, bottle caps, shampoo, and soap sachets… These are just some of the things we find littering the beaches these days.
More and more, we hear of marine ecosystems becoming damaged and marine life also becoming affected, depleted, or extinct.
There are two major concerns when it comes to the ocean and marine ecosystems: Ocean Plastic pollution and Ocean Acidification.
The first concern when it comes to the ocean and marine ecosystems is the acidification of the oceans.
What Is Ocean Acidification?
Ocean acidification refers to the process where the planet’s oceans become acidic. This is due to the ocean absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is bad for ocean creatures because they tend to be very sensitive to changes in the pH levels of seawater.
How Does Ocean Acidification Happen?
Burning of fossil fuels and cutting down forests have resulted in a worrying increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees are known to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and purify it.
However, with increased deforestation all over the world for agricultural purposes, residential purposes, and to give room to industrialization, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has been rising at alarming rates.
Human action is mostly to blame for ocean acidification. Our activities are releasing millions of metric tons of carbon. And there is no corresponding cleanup of the atmospheric carbon. This is happening because there are fewer trees left to absorb excess carbon dioxide over most parts of the world.
The carbon released into the atmosphere is usually in the form of carbon dioxide. When carbon dioxide is absorbed in water, it creates carbonic acid.
What Are the Effects of Ocean Acidification?
So what happens in the oceans is that the carbon dioxide mixes with the seawater, which causes the water to become more acidic. In the same way that acid rain corrodes buildings and limestone features, ocean acidification affects coral life, fish, sea creatures, and their marine habitats.
Some of the effects of ocean acidification are as follows:
- Erodes corals and diminishes coral reefs. This, in turn, destroys the marine habitat of millions of sea creatures.
- It bleaches corals
- Affects the immunity of fish to microbes and pathogens
- Erodes the exoskeleton of sea creatures like clams, snails, and turtles
- The tiny zooplankton and other organisms that fish feed on start depleting in number. This results in less food for fish and different marine life.
- Depleted food means marine life can no longer thrive in such oceans. It hurts entire food chains and ecosystems.
- It confuses fish by distorting their sense of smell. Yes… fish do have a sense of smell, and even the slightest changes to the marine environment distort their ability to pick scents.
Since carbon dioxide is more readily absorbed in cold water, it has been found that Ocean Acidification is occurring at higher rates in the cold oceans of the world compared to tropical seas.
All 3 of Canada’s oceans are experiencing significant Ocean Acidification. To understand more about Ocean Acidification and its effects, take a look at this video done by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
What Can Be Done to Reduce or Reverse Ocean Acidification?
The key to reducing and reversing Ocean Acidification is to Reduce the Earth’s carbon footprint and reduce the amount of carbon being released into the air.
In 2016, the Paris Agreement was signed by the international community. Participating countries pledged to take initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions significantly. We will be doing a review to track the status of each country in terms of meeting their commitments on this.
10 Ways to Reduce Our Carbon Footprint.
- Stop burning fossil fuels and switch to renewable/ clean energy sources like solar energy, wind, and water.
- Reduce the cost of renewable energy (solar, wind, and geothermal) to make it easily accessible to more people. This will make humanity rely less on fossil fuels.
- Forests and Trees: Implement reforestation initiatives and protect existing forests. This also involves designating more Forest Protected Areas or Forest Reserves. This is paramount, especially in areas with rain forests and in noted water catchment areas.
- Increase the number of Marine Protected Areas. The Paris Agreement had set the target as 10% of the ocean should be designated Marine Protected Areas by 2020.
- Stop eating Red Meat (or significantly reduce the amount of red meat you eat). This is because preparing red meat consumes 11 times more water and produces five times more emissions than poultry alternatives. Just to drive this point home, it takes 5000 gallons (about 18,927 liters) of water to get a single pound of red meat. Because of the amount of water used in animal agriculture, it’s been blamed for contributing significantly to the problem of water scarcity in the world.
- Drive less, cycle, and walk more. Cities all over the world are investing in infrastructure that includes cycling lanes to encourage people to leave their cars home. Other cities have implemented policies that make it more expensive to drive within certain city limits. This encourages residents to use other means of transport (bus, trams, train, etc.).
- Unplug your devices. Electronics that remain plugged into sockets continue to consume power even when powered down. It’s estimated that in the US alone, ‘vampire power’ drains up-to $19 billion worth of energy each year.
- Keep a garden at home, whether it’s a kitchen garden, flower garden, or potted herb garden. They all play a part in reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Plant some flowers and even trees if you’ve got the space.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air, which is highly beneficial in reducing the carbon footprint, and consequently reducing global warming.
- As much as possible, eat locally produced food to reduce the carbon footprint of imported stuff. If you picture the journey that imported food takes just to get to stores across countries or continents, it results in lots of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. So it’s better to go local and organic. Organic food has not been sprayed with lots of toxic pesticides and chemicals that are detrimental to the environment.
- Line-drying your laundry saves five times LESS electricity than running a dryer. Did you know that running a clothes dryer is almost the equivalent of turning on 225 light bulbs for an hour?
Ocean Plastic Pollution
In December 2019, a powerful typhoon hit my country – Philippines – causing power outages and considerable damage estimated at $116 million. Typhoon Kammuri (which we call Typhoon Tisoy in the Philippines) brought up a lot of trash in the Pacific Ocean and caused massive flooding in many parts of the country.
Aside from climate change that’s causing weather extremities all over the world, the problem of ocean plastic pollution became quite clear to us in the Philippines.
For many years, the attitude of many native Filipinos has been one of the passive concerns. They felt that it was the government that ought to do something to manage plastic pollution. They also thought that the local authorities or the Minister of Environment were responsible for cleaning up the beaches.
Until recently, very few people felt that they should take personal responsibility for contributing to the waste that’s found littering the beaches or that ends up in landfills.
Ocean plastic pollution has become a nightmare in many countries neighboring the world’s oceans. Once clear blue waters are now consistently fouled by industrial effluent, sewage, agricultural waste, and plastic.
Due to increased public outcry on ocean plastic pollution, many countries have banned single-use plastic products. They include single-use shopping bags, cutlery, drinking straws, and food packaging. Also, many food and beverage corporations are increasingly committing to reusable and recyclable packaging for their products.
The Vortex Swim – Ocean Pollution at a Deeper Level
In September 2019, Ben Lecomte, a long-distance swimmer, made history by swimming for 100 days across the Pacific Ocean, and right through The Plastic Vortex. The Plastic Vortex refers to what is known as The Pacific Garbage Patch. It is a massive vortex of plastic garbage found in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California.
Ben was on a mission to help scientists collect samples of microplastic waste from the Plastic Vortex for analysis. This is why they named it The Vortex Swim.
He was accompanied by a crew of researchers from the University of Hawaii, who followed him on a boat and who also tried to keep the boat plastic-free and zero waste. You can view Instagram pictures of this epic Vortex Swim and the surprising things Ben found here.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of 5 such vortexes found across the oceans of the world. It is twice the size of Texas state of US and measures over 1000 miles long. Pretty Huge!
These Vortexes were created when ocean currents concentrated plastic debris within a particular area. You can imagine the effect on fish, turtles and other sea creatures which live there.
The primary mission of the Vortex Swim was to analyze the extent of plastic pollution within the Pacific Ocean, especially microplastics and micro-fibers pollution. If you want to read more about the Vortex Swim and what Ben Lecomte and his crew found, follow this link here.
This Swim was an eye-opener into the gravity of micro-plastic and micro-fiber pollution, mainly because the focus has been more on pollution by large plastic debris.
Tokyo Olympics 2020 – Sustainable Firsts:
The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 have gone all out to frame the games as environmentally friendly and sustainable. Here are a couple of ways that they are doing this.
- The Award Ceremony Podium will be made from recycled household and marine plastic. Recycling of plastic waste and ocean plastic pollution is currently huge concerns all over the world. The Tokyo Olympics organizers have made significant milestones in achieving plastic recycling to such a scale, at such an internationally recognized event.
- Electricity powering the games will be from renewable sources.
- Athletes’ beds at the athlete’s village will be made from recycled cardboard to reduce carbon emissions. That’s not all. The mattresses will be made from polyethylene materials, which will be reused for plastic products once the Games are over.
- Even the medals to be awarded to event winners will be made from metal extracted from recycled electronics, which include 6.2 million used mobile phones.
- The Olympic torch is crafted from recycled aluminum.
- The Carbon Offset program of the Tokyo Olympics has been implemented to offset unavoidable carbon emissions during the games. Citizens of Yokohama have already implemented energy-saving actions to serve as a case study for other cities in Japan.
The Tokyo Games set the sustainability concept as its theme to contribute towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To learn more about the Sustainable Firsts in the Tokyo Olympics 2020, you can read up on all the details right here, along with other achievements these games will be making.
More on Ocean Pollution & Acidification
My friend Maria is also passionate about ocean protection and shares a whole lot more on this. In her posts on Life in a Plastic Free Ocean and Sustainable Fashion: The Whys & Hows, Maria inspires us with insights into how fashion contributes to ocean pollution and acidification.
What are your thoughts on Ocean Pollution?
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