The Threat Facing More Than 70% Of Our Pale Blue Dot

Written By: Megan Tay Jia-Xin (2MD2), Lee Shek Wayne, Samuel (1SC4)

Oceans, the solution to the riddle of ‘what has no beginning, middle, or end? You may have stumbled upon the fact that oceans cover more than 70% of the earth countless times before, thus, it is safe to say they are rather significant to this earth. After all, it is home to 228450 known species and as many as 2 million more that remain a mystery to us. May I digress for a sentence: We have been considering the mystery of aliens since space travel has been possible; However, the real aliens are quite literally under our noses in the sea. 

Unfortunately, Oceans, like most other natural environments, follow the trend of being affected by pollution as human activity increases. From sewage dumping to oil spills, the damage caused by these activities is very considerable. One of the more pressing examples of ocean pollution would be none other than plastics. Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into oceans, plaguing its inhabitants with an everlasting curse due to the material’s nature of being non-biodegradable. Non-biodegradable, meaning that they can neither be decomposed nor degraded no matter the period of time, resulting in them remaining ever present in that environment.

“What’s so bad about plastics? They are just there, it’s not like it’s a huge threat.“

Well, there is no statement more wrong than the one above, there are so many ways that plastics can make life worse for all living creatures. Let’s start with marine life.

Where else do I start other than the infamous argument of the ingestion of plastics by marine sea life? Plastic debris such as bottles, bags, and other plastic waste can be mistaken for prey for such hungry creatures in the wild. In an attempt to satiate their hunger, they will try ingesting the plastic but it will backfire horribly with nothing good resulting from it. They can easily die from many causes once the ingestion of plastic occurs. Examples of which include suffocation, starvation, or other internal injuries. All of which are absolutely horrible fates for these defenceless sea creatures.

Next up, entanglement. In the wild, it is priority number 1 to be able to survive by avoiding predators and finding prey. It would be disastrous if their movement ability was severely restricted. However this is already a reality for many poor animals as the usual plastics like nets and bags had already entangled them. It would already be a near death sentence when entangled, with the only remaining being a massive human intervention. Though, it is rather unlikely that the freeing of these animals will be effective as the time goes by. Especially so since there are many immediate effects of entanglement which include drowning, suffering lethal cuts, and much more ; but to sum it all up, entanglement in plastic would not be any good to the animals.

Onto a much lesser known evil of plastics which would be chemical leaching of plastics. Certain plastics contain chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), which can interfere with the hormone systems of animals. In layman terms, this would absolutely mess up one of the ways that the body can regulate itself. Once affected, you can expect to see a delay or complete stop to the growth and development of the wildlife from maturing. And with this, we can say goodbye to possible future generations of that marine life.

Though the impact of ocean pollution on marine life is devastating, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention the other group of living creatures that ocean pollution harms. 

Ignorance is bliss. As humans, we hold ourselves at an arm’s length from the impacts of ocean pollution. We fall back on the excuse: it doesn’t affect us. After all, we’re not the animals that are physically inhibited by oil spills, or suffocated by plastic waste. The ocean is not man’s domain. 

However, man’s ocean pollution is karmic. It affects us more than we think. The plastic that we throw in the ocean with a laissez-faire attitude comes back to harm us. 

In the ocean, most plastics break up into miniscule particles. Or, microbeads, which are plastics intentionally designed to be small for use in beauty products, are thrown into the ocean. These are microplastics, which, thanks to our consumerist culture, have become highly concentrated in ocean water. Aquatic animals mistake these for food. These are the same aquatic animals that we fish and consume. We are literally eating them along with the microplastics present in their bodies. Some scientists have estimated that we consume around a credit card’s worth of plastic a week. 

Photo of microplastics. Photo Credit: User pcess609, Getty Images 

So, why is this a problem? So what if I guzzle down an American Express or Visa every week? The consumption of microplastics have been linked with cancer, reduced fertility, psychological illnesses and birth defects as a result of the multitude of toxic chemicals, such as neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. 

It doesn’t stop at microplastics. There’s mercury pollution, as a result of coal combustion, as well as manufactured chemicals that are thrown into the sea, contaminating the fish we eat, resulting in negative health effects such as heart disease, dementia and metabolic disease. 

According to Phillip Landrigan M.D., the Director at the Boston College Global Observatory on Pollution and Health, “Its (ocean pollutions) impacts fall most heavily on low-income countries, coastal fishing communities, people on small island nations, indigenous populations, and people in the high Arctic – groups that for the most part produce very little pollution themselves. These populations rely on the oceans for food.” 

It’s not just aquatic animals we’re harming. We’re actively hurting ourselves, and more selfishly, we’re apathetic in how our actions hurt our fellow man, whose, as Professor Landrigan said, “survival depends on the health of the seas.”

Enough with the negativity, it is also required of us to know both the good and bad before making any judgement. Obviously, there is nothing good about ocean pollution, so the good thing that we will write about would be what is done against it.

Solving ocean pollution seems like an insurmountable task. After years of damage, and at such a large scale, how could we possibly make a dent in this pressing issue? 

Organisations which include governments, companies, and environmental groups are absolutely necessary for the pushback on ocean pollution. After all, the ocean has a really large area to cover. 

One such organisation that caught my attention has a rather unique solution compared to the other organisations in their efforts of combatting ocean pollution. Give it up for the “manta boats” created by the organisation “the sea cleaners”. The real trailblazer in the sector of ships designed specifically for the collection, treatment, and repurposing of plastic debris in water bodies. Collecting a staggering 1-3 tonnes of plastic an hour, combined with the fact it only needs to rest for a short 4 hours daily, the ship could possibly clean up to 21900 tonnes of plastic a year, assuming maximum efficiency. 400 of these boats would easily be enough to be in the green for reducing ocean pollution. But alas, it is still in development, only approved in Principle with Bureau Veritas in 2022. However, I believe that my point still stands as time and patience are often key ingredients to make something so magnificent. Just you wait, it is only a matter of time until we reach the launch date of the Manta.

Photo of a manta boat. Photo credit:×0-c-default.jpg

Besides the help of organisations, we as individuals can do our part. 

One way is to become wiser consumers. We need to be more cognizant of the types of products we consume. It’s important to buy and use less plastics, and do research on our purchases. Non-biodegradable plastics seem to be in everything, from face masks to footwear. However, staying well informed and choosing to make more sustainable shopping choices can help make a difference. 

Show support for legislation that aims to reduce plastic production and waste. Take action, take part in or even help to organise beach cleanups, and pick up trash before it gets swept into the sea. Support and donate to organisations such as Greenpeace and the Oceanic Society, which are spearheading activist movements against ocean pollution. Reduce waste by cutting down on the amount you throw away. This goes hand in hand with being a wise consumer. Try to purchase products that are reusable, and will have longevity, and buy less unnecessary products. 

The ocean covers over 70% of the surface of our planet. It’s a rich, diverse ecosystem in itself, one that we rely on heavily for our survival. It is imperative that we take care of it. We must learn to protect our ocean instead of harming it.

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