(Originally written for the Endangered Species Chocolate blog)
For decades, the ocean has been the ultimate dumping ground. Anything humans have ever wanted to throw away have been tossed ashore. The statistics are truly staggering, from a study saying there will be more trash than fish by 2050 to another saying that 5 large bags of plastic end up in the ocean for every 1 foot of coast, every year.
The problem is that “away” isn’t really away. That plastic comes back to us by contaminating our seafood, by killing animals that are important to ocean habitats and coastal economies like sea turtles and whales, by ruining beaches that used to be popular for tourism.
The good news is that this problem is fixable. This World Ocean’s Day, all of us can impact the ocean in a positive way. Here are a few tips to help make the ocean a bit more healthy.
1. Say Goodbye to Straws
It’s said that the human brain is the most complex thing in the universe. Do we really need a plastic tube to help get liquids from a drink to our mouths? Straws may seem innocent, but when you see video of a straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nose, it’s enough to say “no straw please” the next time you order a drink.
2. Balloons Blow
Perhaps we could find a way to celebrate special occasions that don’t involve releasing a gaggle of balloons that often make their way to the ocean? In the water, with its string, a balloon (like plastic bags) can look a lot like a jellyfish to a sea turtle. If you are planning a celebration, consider other ways to have fun than releasing helium balloons and if you end up with a helium balloon, be very careful to keep it from flying away.
3. Reef-Friendly Suntanning
Did you know that our skin can be a source of pollution? Sunscreens that contain the chemical oxybenzone can damage coral reefs. Even a tiny bit can hurt; as little as one drop in the equivalent of six Olympic-sized pools can be damaging. PADI has put together a guide for sunscreens that are better for swimming in the ocean here.
4. Bear Your (Ocean) Sole
Flip flops are not generally made to last. They are one of the most common products found littering beaches around the world. In Kenya, Ocean Sole collects discarded flip flops from the beach and turns them into beautiful wildlife creations.
5. Shop Carefully on Vacation
In many tropical places, especially around Latin America, souvenir shops and artisans sell items made from the shell of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (sometimes mistakenly referred to as “tortoiseshell”). Keep an eye out for these items and avoid shops that sell them. Hawksbills are key to the health of coral reefs and their shells don’t grow back.
6. Law of Reduction
Countries, states, and cities around the world are taking action to reduce waste through bans or fees on plastic bags, Styrofoam, and other plastic. These bans can have a huge impact, a tax on bags reduced their use at least 75% in Ireland for example and a bag fee in Washington DC has reduced their use by 50% according to studies. Encourage your decision-makers to enact these policies is a simple act that can have a huge impact. And of course, remember to bring your reusable bag whenever you shop!