Special to Wild Oceans, November 2018
Scuba diving is perhaps the greatest adventure in the world. Where else can you come face to face with creatures from your most fanciful dreams? As divers, we fly through the water like majestic birds, riding the ocean currents that bring life and beauty to the entire world.
One of my favorite parts of scuba is the opportunity to experience parts of nature almost completely untouched by the influence of humanity. The stunning underwater scenery, rich, diverse marine life, and crystal-clear waters have become a personal obsession.
Nestled among the flowing waves of the Pacific Ocean is Midway Atoll, an island that is as remote as tiny islands can be. I spent three weeks exploring the waters surrounding Midway Atoll.
On my very first dive, we approached a stunningly beautiful, untouched coral reef that was so awe-inspiring, I almost thought I was dreaming. That was until the surrounding currents changed.
Like the Flip of a Coin
The powerful central Pacific currents that bring life and nutrients to this pristine reef instead brought a torrent of trash. I floated above the reef, frozen in shock at the sudden shift in the dive. Usually in diving, we worry about currents pulling us away from our boats, not an ocean trash barge.
Gradually, the vibrant colors of the reef transformed into a horrific collage of greys. Bags and bottles clung to exposed coral, and I saw plastic can retainers scattered among the fish.
I don’t know how long I bobbed there above the reef buffeted by the influx of plastic. My response was a mixture of disappointment and surprise. I knew from my experience studying ocean pollution around the world that trash could travel great distances, but I was left breathless as I witnessed this plastic invasion in one of the most remote islands in the Pacific.
The Plastic Sea
After this experience, my eyes opened wide, and for the first time, I truly saw how far the plastic we toss away can travel. As my knowledge grew, so did my desire to share what I had learned and experienced.
- Thousands of tons of trash and waste are dumped into the oceans of the world. It breaks down slowly, and marine life often mistakes it for food. Ocean pollution kills more than one million seabirds each year.
- Seals get caught in fishing gear, dolphins mistake plastic bags for their next meal and die eating them. We all love to watch seals and dolphins play in the water, but they are just two of the many victims of the spread of plastic pollution.
- Microplastics eaten by some species can attract background pollutants such as DDT, with dangers of entering the human food chain.
Animals ingesting plastics is just one of the problems with the abundance of plastics plaguing our oceans. The plastic particles can absorb toxins already in the water and spread them through the marine food web, and possibly to humans. Plastic acts like a bee spreading pollen, except the plastic is spreading poison.
The ocean is vital to sustaining life on Earth because it produces 70% of the Earth’s oxygen and holds 97% of Earth’s water supply. The building pollution in the ocean can lead to reproductive problems, nervous system disorders, heart disease, and more.
We Can Rescue Beauty from the Beast
Even with all the damage from pollution, the marvelous bounty of the oceans is resilient. With our help, the world’s oceans can and will recover. It doesn’t take a miracle or some great technological invention. Each of us can help save the ocean with just a little effort.
1. Spread Awareness
The first, and most simple step to effecting change is to become aware of the problem and the causes. Educate yourself, then share your education with others. Once you have learned about the issues, use your social media pages or blogs to help spread the word. Knowledge is the power that fuels change.
2. Support Sustainable Fishing Practices
Across the world, organizations and governments are striving to forge and promote sustainable fisheries. By promoting sustainable fisheries and healthy ocean ecosystems through work with fisheries managers to reduce bycatch and adopt ecosystem-based, precautionary approaches to ocean management.
3. Political Action
One of the best tools is to get involved with the political process. Reach out to your local leaders and encourage them to pass legislation that protects the ocean from pollution and harmful fishing practices. Visit the Wild Oceans Action Center to take action today!
You can help by buying and supporting seafood sourced by sustainable fishing initiatives. Use tools that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations by identifying fisheries and companies that utilize sustainable fishing practices.
The below infographic paints a clear picture of why and how plastic affects us all. Click on the image for a detailed, enlarged view.