Covering more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, the oceans are immense, but they are not invulnerable. Pollution is a very real problem that can have a crippling effect on marine ecosystems and the humans who depend on them. How big is the problem? Plastics, chemicals and other trash combine with noise and light pollution, causing disruption, damage and death. For example, ocean water’s pH changes as it absorbs carbon emissions. Under the current emissions standards, oceans are acidifying at an accelerated pace that is faster than anything seen in 300 million years, a change that is causing significant issues for marine flora and fauna. Meanwhile, trash is making its way into the oceans at an alarming rate. A belt of nonbiodegradable plastic trash now hovers in the northern Pacific Ocean, spanning a 1000-mile area. Farther south, scientists, watermen and seafood aficionados watch warily as a dead zone that is roughly the size of New Jersey forms in the Gulf of Mexico each summer, and these are far from the only trouble spots.
People love to spend time in areas where the water and the shore come together. Many communities strive to keep these spaces clean to protect both the environment and their tourism industry, but some seas are notoriously dirty. Where would you find the world’s filthiest seashores? According to studies, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines are home to the world’s dirtiest seas. However, the problem isn’t just a local one. Even people who never see the sea can be impacted as negative changes in the marine environment lead to alterations in weather patterns, changes in the food supply and shakeups in various economic factors. Fortunately, there are efforts to curtail pollution and keep the oceans clean.
International Laws that Protect the Ocean
Governments around the globe are recognizing the importance of protecting the oceans. A variety of laws and treaties have been passed to aid this effort:
- The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter of 1972, which is often referred to as the London Convention, was one of the earliest international efforts to keep ocean clean via legal agreement. The treaty requires contracting partners to prevent pollution and practice responsible waste management. It also banned the dumping of hazardous materials.
- In 2006, participants in the London Convention launched a new treaty, the London Protocol. Intended to update and eventually replace its predecessor, it prohibits incineration at sea, the export of waste for the purposes of marine dumping, and the dumping of any waste not listed in Annex I of the London Protocol.
- The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the environmental impact of the improper disposal of plastics and work to identify ways to reduce or eliminate any negative effects.
- The Clean Water Act forbids the discharge of oil or other hazardous substances into the ocean and most U.S. waters. It also allows the government to punish corporate polluters with fines and other penalties.
- The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 protects the oceans and other waters and the air and land. This far-reaching act requires U.S. government agencies to evaluate the environmental effects of any major federal actions, including those taken under agency permits, that are likely to significantly impact the environment. In addition, NEPA sets out requirements for public notice and commenting. These requirements keep the public informed, offer opportunities for citizens and organizations to evaluate these proposed actions, and provide a time and place for them to voice any concerns.
7 Impactful Ways to Keep the Ocean Clean
Government commitment and oversight can be a powerful force when it comes to preventing marine pollution, especially when it is carried out under the watchful eyes of a concerned public. However, governmental actions are not the only way to make a difference. Individuals can also protect the health of the ocean. It doesn’t require major sacrifices or huge time commitment. There are several small steps that anyone can take to help to keep the ocean a little cleaner:
- Spread the word about the importance of ocean preservation. Speaking up about the value of clean oceans and the need to make stewardship a shared responsibility is powerful. Share your love of the ocean and the damage that pollution does in conversations and discussions. Attend community meetings and work sessions that involve projects with environmental impact. Join cleanup drives and fundraisers with friends. Is there a distinct lack of opportunities in your area? Consider getting the ball rolling by joining with established groups to organize events in your hometown.
- Reduce energy use. With carbon emissions having such a strong impact on the oceans, shrinking your carbon footprint can make a difference. Reducing your energy use is a great way to do this, and it has the added benefit of lower energy bills.
- Refuse single-use items. Plastic bags, straws and other single-use trash often ends up in the oceans. Opting for reusable products reduces the amount of trash, so there’s less waste that might make its way into the ocean.
- Opt for organic household products instead of chemical products. Chemical contamination may be harder to see than plastic waste, but it can be just as harmful. Choosing organic products can help to keep hazardous chemicals out of your life and out of the oceans.
- Dispose of waste in an environmentally safe way. Thanks to realities like runoff and the water cycle, trash thrown just about anywhere can have an impact on the oceans. While it may seem harmless, the effects of the improper disposal of waste can snowball. Protect your health and the marine environment by making a sincere effort to reduce the amount of trash that you produce and taking care to dispose of any waste in an environmentally friendly way.
- Be considerate of marine life. Humans often enjoy spending time on or around the water, making coastlines popular vacation spots. For marine life, the oceans are more than a great place to play; they’re home. When you’re in or around the water, be a good guest. Be considerate of marine life and make an effort to preserve the area and minimize any disruption.
- Do water sports responsibly. Water sports are an excellent way to enjoy being outside, hone your athletic skills and get some fun exercise. Acting responsibly while you’re engaging in the sport of your choice helps to ensure that the ocean will remain a viable place to play for years to come.
More than 97% of the Earth’s water is found in the oceans, and the fish that are harvested from these waters provide the largest percentage of protein in human diets. Clearly, the health of the oceans has a direct impact on the well-being of humans. In fact, death and disease resulting from polluted coastal waters cost the global economy some $12.8 billion each year. Fortunately, governments, organizations and individuals who love the water can step up to help turn the tide and protect the marine environment. Platinum Sun was born from our love of both extreme water sports and the waves that serve as our favorite playground. When you need top-quality gear that allows you to participate in water sports responsibly, you’ll find it at platinumsun.com. Stop by today to explore the possibilities.