On June 8 we mark World Oceans Day and while we celebrate the majesty and beauty of our seas and the myriad creatures that dwell in them, we must also reflect on their plight and do what we can to protect them. The oceans cover over 70 percent of our planet’s surface and are vital to the survival of life on earth and yet they are under threat from climate change, pollution and overexploitation. We are already seeing the consequences in many parts of the world, including depleted fisheries, water acidification, rising sea levels, extreme weather, coastal flooding and erosion, species decline, coral bleaching and reef destruction.
Time for Action We must act together to protect our oceans. Every little helps and here’s a look at some of the ways you can participate while on vacation and back home.
• Reduce energy consumption; by doing so you can help cut fossil fuel emissions and combat global warming. Here are some examples: turn lights and appliances off when you leave the room and switch to energy-saving light bulbs, walk instead of using the car and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
• Save water and reduce your use of chemicals such as non-biodegradable cleaning, laundry or garden products that drain into rivers and ultimately into the oceans.
• Recycle your trash. Did you know that there are huge islands of plastic garbage floating in our oceans, carried for thousands of miles by the currents? The harmful chemicals in plastics and minute fragments called micro-plastics accumulate in the food chain affecting the health of fish, birds and other marine creatures and ultimately our own. Use reusable bags and storage containers wherever possible.
• Help keep the world’s beaches clean. Take your garbage with you when you depart. Ring pulls, plastic beer packaging and cellophane bags are harmful to seabirds and marine life, including the sea turtle, which mistake bags for jellyfish, one of its foods. Another sobering statistic relates to the cigarette butts that are stubbed out in the sand as though it is one huge ashtray, the UN International Maritime Organization estimates that 177 species of marine animals and 111 species of shorebirds are affected by tobacco litter.
• Always use environmentally friendly, biodegradable sunscreens, especially if you plan to go snorkeling and swimming. The chemicals and oils in standard sun products contaminate the water and are harmful to corals and other marine life. As an alternative to sun creams, wearing a t-shirt while snorkeling helps protect you from the sun’s rays.
• Keep your distance from coral reefs when snorkeling and diving. Corals are very slow growing and the slightest touch or the sand stirred up by your fins can cause damage that it will take the reef hundreds of years to recover from.
• However appealing they may be, do not remove shells or any other creature living or dead from rock pools or coral reefs.
• Fishermen should always dispose of fishing lines, nets, hooks and lead weights correctly. Birds and other marine creatures can become entangled in nets or swallow bait and fishing lines, dying a slow and agonizing death. Commercial fishing techniques also take their toll on dolphins, turtles and birds. A study carried out by the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International estimates that longline fishing may cause the deaths of up to 300,00 seabirds a year.
• We urge you to observe the “catch and release” policy for game fish such as marlin and sailfish.
• Look for sustainably caught or raised seafood. The populations of many of the world’s most popular fish species are depleted due to decades of overfishing using unsustainable methods.
• Don’t buy shells, corals, starfish, turtle eggs or meat, tortoiseshell jewelry and combs (made from the shell of the hawksbill turtle), and turtle oil creams.
• Learn all you can about the ocean, the role it plays and the challenges it faces.
• Support organizations working to protect the ocean and marine life.