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Our oceans are in trouble. They have become humanity’s giant trash bin. We pollute, damage and alter the oceans’ natural and chemical balance with our reckless behavior. We have selfishly been taking natural resources for our own consumptive use and not taking responsibility for the aftermath of our actions. With each day, human activity is increasingly damaging to our oceans’ natural processes and ultimately, life on earth. All life on Earth began in ocean waters; living species evolved from water-born species and have adapted to survive for millions of years on land, from the age of living dinosaurs to humanity that roams planet Earth today. Earth in itself is a biological being and the oceans are the power source that keep everything balanced and moving forward. Oceans manage our climate and the weather, and provide us with natural resources and food for nearly 3.5 billion people. Furthermore, they serve as the passage for more than 90% of all trade between countries and life for more than 80% of all human beings within 60 miles from the coast. With every drop of water we drink and with every breath we take, we are connected to our oceans.
For most of civilization, humans have been coastal beings and it would have been right to assume that we would respect and nurture the waters that surround us. However, in reality the state our oceans are in now is grossly disheartening. Today, we are constantly being exposed to and influenced by the ideas of social consumerism and materialism. As the world population increases and globalization reaches previously untouched territories, current consumption and production methods are going to have to became more sustainable in order for future generations to survive. As a result of our historically unsustainable practices, our oceans are in danger. They are filled with trash, polluted with toxins and an alarming rate of marine species are becoming extinct due to overfishing.
While the atmospheric consequences of global warming may be more focused on, the oceans are deteriorating. We are not only making our oceans hotter and causing glaciers and ice in the arctic to melt, but we are also turning the ocean waters too acidic. This acidification of the oceans weakens the capacity of coral reefs and shelled organism to form skeletons and shells. Coral reefs which are homes to one third of the world’s marine life; have seen a 40% decline, destroying the habitats of many sea creatures and disrupting the food web.
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Many corporations do not take into consideration the life-cycle assessment of their products. This means that they do not consider the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life – from the start of production to the moment an individual throws it away as trash. As a result of our increased consumption of plastic based products, plastic is the number one killer of our oceans.
Plastic is not biodegradable and thus takes thousands of years to breakdown. About 80% of marine litter originates on land, and most of it is plastic. It has become so bad that there are now five major garbage patches that have accumulated in our oceans: the Indian Ocean Gyre, which contains the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch, the North Atlantic Gyre, which contains the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, the North Pacific Gyre, which contains the Great Pacific Garbage patch, and the South Atlantic and Pacific Gyre.
In addition, there is currently a garbage patch that can be found in the Mediterranean Sea, coined as the Mediterranean Sea Garbage Patch, it has over 250 billion pieces of plastic, weighing almost 500 tonnes. The largest of the garbage patches is the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch that weighs 7 million tons and is twice the size of Texas. The saddest part about all of this is that the plastic that pollutes our oceans has severe impacts on marine life. In October last year, according to the Association Foreign Press news agency, a sperm whale washed up ashore in Taiwan with its stomach full of plastic bags and fishing nets. A similar incident occurred when a sperm whale washed up ashore in Tershelling, Netherlands containing large amounts of plastic waste.
Our governments have failed us. One of the few steps toward a better future that has been made was in 2016 when President Obama and other national leaders came together to establish a new 598,000 square-mile safe zone. More than twice the size of Texas and home to a range of species from penguins to whales, the establishment of this zone is certainly a milestone, yet it did not include ocean clean-up or anti-pollution protocols. However, individuals around the world are starting to take matters into their own hands, one of whom is 21-year-old Boyan Slat, a Dutch inventor and founder of The Ocean Cleanup.
The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit organization that has raised millions of dollars to put into action a cleaning plan that Boyan Slat invented. The core of his plan envisions a “network of long floating barriers, which would allow the ocean currents to passively gather the plastic”. Once the plastic has been gathered and concentrated in one central point, it can then be collected for recycling. Engineers and researchers are currently approving the project so hopefully by 2020, it can be put in full motion.
Such projects indicate the start of saving our oceans, but the only way to fully fix this issue is for humans to collectively take responsibility. As a species, we have to come to terms that our actions are having huge implications on our environment and we are the only ones that can change that. As our population grows and we encroach ourselves in the habitats of other living things, we have to decide what is worth saving – our materialistic needs for glamour and luxury that is causing this environmental pollution or our beautiful natural world that has existed for millions of years before humans even stepped foot on land.