Plastic debris floating on the ocean surface, shot underwater. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)Today is World Oceans Day, the annual celebration of the planet’s oceans.
It’s a chance to remind ourselves of the beauty and fragility of the water that gives the Earth its nickname: the blue planet.
Sadly, the oceans are becoming filled with plastic having a disastrous effect on the marine life around the world. Recently it was revealed that even the Mariana Trench – the deepest known part of the Pacific Ocean – wasn’t safe from plastic waste.
Roughly speaking, humans dump eight million tonnes of plastic waste into the oceans each year. Cumulatively, there’s about 350 million tonnes of the stuff in our seas. Every minute of every day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the world’s oceans, according to Greenpeace statistics. Waste such as bottles, nappies and beer holders can last for up to 450 years in the environment. Some plastics last for 1,000 years.
But even as the problem becomes more severe, the awareness of it is growing.
Emily Penn is a Sky Ocean Rescue ambassador and a sailor (Sky)‘I’ve been studying plastic pollution for 11 years, and when I started out nobody understood,’ Emily Penn, an ambassador for Sky Ocean Rescue, told Metro.co.uk.
‘In the last two years, the shift has been massive.’
That shift has led to initiatives like 5p plastic bags in supermarkets and the pledge to ban plastic straws in the UK by next year.
Emily told Metro that it can seem like an insurmountable task, but just by focusing on small changes, people can have an impact.
“The more time I spend at sea, the more I realise the solutions start at land.” Thank you @AXAUK and @SkyOceanRescue for having the important conversations about our human impact on the ocean as well as the impact we can all make in protecting it. pic.twitter.com/nKJcx1b38r
— Emily Penn (@emilypenn) May 23, 2019
‘We’re looking at the behavioural change of consumers,’ she said. ‘There’s a huge amount we can do in our own lives. Things like plastic bags, water bottles, lunch containers are all very easy for us to remove and replace with sustainable options.’
‘Of course, industry and manufacturers need to do their part as well and we want to create a shift even further up the chain. What are governments going to do about it?’
‘One thing that’s become clear to me from my years at sea is that this is the most enormous, but not impossible, challenge.’
Children playing on a beach filled with plastic wastes in Manila, Philippines. The Philippines has been ranked third on the list of the world’s top-five plastic polluter into the oceans, after China and Indonesia (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)An all-too-common element of plastic pollution is pointing the finger at the likes of China.
Recent estimates suggest that China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are dumping more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined, according to research by Ocean Conservancy.
Of the ten most plastic-polluted rivers in the world, eight are in Asia, including the Yangtze, Mekong and Ganges. Two are in Africa, the Nile and the Niger, according to the World Economic Forum.
So while it’s true that these countries have a huge impact, Emily explains that we can still influence that here in the UK. She told Metro.co.uk that UK customers still buy a lot of products from China and that many of the brands that manufacture over there are headquartered here in the west.
Plastic is found throughout the oceans (Just One Ocean)Cutting back on plastic and being more conscientious about purchasing products isn’t an easy task, but it’s an essential undercurrent of what World Oceans Day is all about.
Andy Sharpless, CEO of ocean conservation non-profit organisation Oceana, said: ‘More plastic was manufactured in the previous decade than in the whole of the last century. Our oceans can feed a billion people every day… but only if we look after them properly.
‘We cannot afford to keep reaching for the plastic bottle without seeing it for the dirty, toxic, pollutant that it really is.’
You can learn more about World Oceans Day here and see some of the work Emily Penn is doing to help save our oceans here.