The average person breaths 20-30 times a minute. That’s 17,000-30,000 breaths a day. Half of that comes from the ocean. The ocean controls the majority of our climate, employs more than 3 million people, and its diversity is necessary for our lives. It is our life support system. And yet we continue to treat it like the world’s largest garbage can.
Our lives and our well being is directly linked to the ocean’s health. And if we continue treating it the way we have, we won’t have it for much longer.
I have always been a water person. When you take me to the beach, you can expect we’ll be there all day and if I’m not completely soaked, I’m not done. I can sit on the warm sand and watch the waves crash on the beach for hours on end. We know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean – the idea of a whole other world a few feet away from me makes me want to spend the rest of my life discovering all of its secrets.
But more and more, the sand is covered with trash. Going in the water is like walking on a minefield – you don’t want to accidentally step on some glass. And the aquatic ecosystem is dwindling.
We’ve all seen the ads about the sea turtle eating a plastic bag thinking its a jellyfish. Or the pictures of seagulls being choked by the six pack plastic rings. Or marine life being slowly replaced by the things we so carelessly throw away.
We see these things and think to ourselves how horrible that is or maybe the truly generous ones will use the recycling instead of the garbage. But the next day, we go right back to the grocery store, leave with our hands full of plastic bags, and the ocean is now filed under vacation ideas in our heads.
On November 8th, 2016, California voters approved legislation that got rid of plastic bags in stores and was replaced with reusable bags or paper bags costing at least 10 cents. The idea wasn’t to make money off of the bags – 10 cents won’t generate any sort of revenue. The point was to make consumers think twice before leaving their house without a reusable bag.
Taking a reusable bag with me when I was shopping was like second nature after a while, but on the rare occasion when I did forget one, the cashier always made sure to stuff the bag as much as possible. And then I came to Arizona. My first time grocery shopping, I forgot a reusable bag. But I wasn’t buying that much stuff so I figured I would walk out of there with one maybe two plastic bags. I walked out with 6.
Living so close to the beach, marine conservation was drilled into my head since before I can remember. And being the ocean lover I am, I was always passionate about protecting my aquatic friends.
But I watched in horror as the cashier at the Safeway a mile from my dorm triple bagged my half a gallon of milk, put my half carton of eggs in a separate bag, and separated out my snacks into two bags when it could clearly fit into one. I almost had a heart attack right there. But being the shy person I am, I quietly swiped my card, grabbed my groceries and got out of there.
When I discussed this with my friends later on, they were flabbergasted. Not at the cashier but at the idea that in California we had to pay for plastic bags. To be fair to the cashier, I’ve been to the grocery store many times since that fateful night and it’s always the same. I make a point to bring my own bags to the grocery store now.
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” holds true when it comes to marine conservation. Living in a landlocked state like Arizona, the ocean isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds. When we have the ocean right in our backyard, it’s easy to see the effect human behavior has on it.
You don’t have to live on a coast to protect marine life.
The stuff you eat affects the world as much as it does you. We are immensely guilty of overfishing. There isn’t as much fish in the ocean as we would like to think and it isn’t a bottomless well. Much like deforestation, if we do not care about putting back as much as we take, scientists predict we will lead to the demise of fisheries all over the world by 2048.
This catastrophic loss of fish is reversible but we need to act fast. Ever the optimist, I believe that humans, despite our flaws, can change our ways when we see the end is near. Researchers have found that 29% of species have been fished so heavily, they are down to 10% of previous levels.
If the fact that the diversity of the ocean is at stake, or that entire ecosystems are on the verge of collapse, or that once these species are gone we can never get them back doesn’t convince you, then consider the economic impact it will have on not only the United States but the world.
Some countries’ diet consists largely of fish – without a ready supply of it, who knows what could happen to the population and the culture. The ocean employs millions of people. If the fisheries collapse, we are looking at massive job losses and a steep decline in revenue that can be catastrophic to a country’s economy.
You don’t have to be the CEO of a world fishery to create a change.
Being aware of where you’re getting your seafood makes all the difference in the world. The Seafood Watch provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium lines out what brands and what types of seafood are the best to eat, some possible alternatives, and what to avoid. Best of all, it is categorized by state so you know you’re making a difference.
Nobody is asking you to give up seafood. I love a good shrimp pasta just as much as the next guy. But being aware of the practices of certain companies, and supporting the ones that keep in mind their effect on the ocean does make a difference no matter where you live.
Not everyone can go to a beach and volunteer to pick up trash. But everyone can make sure not to purchase items that exploit marine life.
Yes, I know. That red coral jewelry looks gorgeous. But by buying it, you are creating a demand for it and the coral reefs are in serious trouble. They are a crucial part of marine ecosystems and their decline can lead to entire reefs dying out.
Shells are a huge aspect of tourism but terrible for marine life. Really any shell you’re either picking up off the beach or buying at a souvenir shop is harming the ocean. If it’s a sea turtle shell, you are most likely buying it a souvenir shop and if you think all these shells are from turtles that died of natural causes, you could not be more wrong. Turtles are hunted for their gorgeous shells and die brutal deaths. Honestly, don’t buy anything that has to do with sea turtles. They are beautiful, rare creatures that aren’t meant to be ornamental pieces on our walls.
Even spiral shells on the beach you think might be okay to pick up still cause harm. Don’t get me wrong, I am more guilty of this than anyone. As a kid, I had plastic bags full of shells I collected from the ocean. But each one of those shells was supposed to be a home for an animal and I deprived them of that. It’s better than buying coral or sea turtle shells, but avoid grabbing them when you can.
Obviously, buying dried up animals like seahorses and starfish is awful. They look really cool sitting on a mantle and they are beautiful creatures, but many of these weren’t just found on a beach. They were taken and dried and then sold for a profit. If this continues, even these animals can face extinction.
Pearls are another item that many people take for granted and don’t understand how and where they come from.
Pearls are produced naturally in oysters but can take up to three years. Unfortunately, humans are naturally impatient creatures and very intelligent so we figured out how to create pearls much faster. They are created by inserting an oyster or clam’s tissue into another oyster or clam which then irritates them and forces them to produce a pearl.
In reality, producing pears is a painful process for clams and oysters to go through and speeding up the process makes sure less than half of them survive. Even then, they spend most of their lives cramped together in a bucket waiting to mature.
Clams or oysters may not seem like animals worth protecting but they are living, breathing creatures that feel pain like the rest of us. They shouldn’t be exploited so we can wear a pearl necklace once a year.
People argue that all of these items sold at souvenir shops expand the economy and the money goes back to the locals. First of all, only a small percentage of people benefit from these shops and many more are exploited because of it. Second, this is only temporary. If this continues, there will be nothing for the locals to sell – causing more harm than good.
If you truly want help the locals, buy the local crafts that don’t exploit marine life.
Buy your souvenirs at villages or local stores – talking to the locals gives you a new perspective on the vacation and provides them with direct income. A story behind a souvenir is better than a piece of rock that means nothing to you.
Our survival depends on healthy oceans. Our economy, our health, and our food depend on being able to rely on marine life. It is the largest ecosystem in the world and we’ve barely scratched the surface of its mysteries. Protect the ocean because we need to be able to depend on it for hundreds of thousands of years.
Also published on Medium.