SEATTLE — Humans live on a blue planet, 72 percent of which is ocean water. This giant mass of sea is home to about 10 million species, produces half the air breathed, provides 350 million jobs and yet is also forced to accommodate eight million tons of plastic waste each year. That is the equivalent of a garbage truck dumping an entire load of trash into the ocean every minute. The oceans have reached their holding capacity. They have turned into a litter-strewn soup, and still people continue to pollute them, thinking it does not affect their lives.
The truth is that humanity’s fate is very much linked to and intertwined with the sea. Society tends to isolate the crumbling oceans’ welfare from things like poverty and malnutrition. The fact is that saving the oceans can reduce poverty, save lives and overall improve everyone’s quality of life. It is critical that people realize the enormous threat a sick ocean can pose to society, and the benefits of its health, not just for the earth, but for themselves.
The oceans are especially important to developing countries. These countries often depend on the ocean for its resources. With the dire state the oceans are in currently, countries like Egypt and Vietnam face nationwide catastrophes on all fronts because of their large numbers of coastal towns that are dependent on ocean resources.
Plastic waste alone kills countless fish and hundreds of thousands of sea mammals each year. For the countries that need these creatures for food and trade, this creates an enormous threat to their communities and leaves them vulnerable to malnutrition and poverty. More than one billion people in these developing countries depend solely on fish for their daily protein. Taking away the fish takes away their nutrition, and eventually their lives.
Saving the seas can not only provide food stability, but saving the oceans can reduce poverty thanks to the protection given to coastal communities. The seas are a key tool in preventing climate change. The oceans absorb 30 percent of our emissions and slow the rate at which global warming takes place, as well as providing temperature stability. This allows coastal towns in developing countries to prosper, grow, trade and live safely.
With the oceans being in such a bad state, climate change escalates and sea levels rise. For places in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, this effect is especially harmful. Not only are communities experiencing flooding, but citizens are becoming homeless, livelihoods are being lost and huge numbers of people are being displaced. Rising ocean levels create refugees of climate change. It is estimated that in this century, hundreds of millions of people will become displaced due to global warming. Saving the ocean can reduce poverty and infrastructural damage on developing nations.
It is not just the ocean as a whole that matters. Coral reefs reduce 97 percent of a wave’s energy, which protects coastal towns and people from disaster. Oysters filter water for sea life, creating clean water for them to reside in and healthy seafood for developing countries. Impressive sea life like sharks is the key to tourism in countries that depend on visitors and helps grow the economy. Every piece of the ocean is vital to coastal towns, those who work with the sea and those who depend on fish protein. Saving the life in the sea and saving the oceans can reduce poverty together. The problem of plastic pollution affects the smallest of creatures and the largest of developing nations. Healthy oceans reduce poverty levels. Polluting them is creating displacement.
One of the many solutions being widely considered is to change what materials are being produced on land in the first place. Big companies are being asked to stop making one-time use plastics and begin to develop materials that can not only be reused, but are made from sustainable materials. Ninety percent of plastics will not end up being recycled, so organizations like Greenpeace are asking large corporations to cease plastic production in the first place. This will hopefully reduce the amount of waste being poured into the ocean.
These nonprofit groups are asking citizens to boycott unsustainable brands through mindful purchasing. They are encouraged to research brands and companies before they buy from them and to put their shopping money where ocean support is apparent. Small actions like using reusable shopping bags, calling Congress about waste, organizing community litter cleanups and minimizing plastic use (e.g., straws, lids, utensils) can truly make a difference in the bigger picture. Spreading awareness about the oceans and their ties to humanity is critical to making a change, as well as informing others that using less plastic and saving the oceans can reduce poverty.
While the oceans are in dire straits at the moment, through the help of people everywhere, the seas can be saved, and accordingly, so can we.
– Emily Degn