(Not my photos! See the first comment for direct links or scroll the notes for the photographer's photostreams)
This is so much longer than I intended. Oops.
Today is World Oceans Day. This year's theme is "Pick Your Favorite, Protect Your Favorite."
I think the oceans, and what lives in them, tend to get overlooked as far as conservation and protection. Everyone knows how vast they are, but it seems like many take that for granted and assume humans do little to hurt them. This couldn't be further from the truth. Most everything you do affects them in some form. This is a very, very short list of problems:
- DEBRIS. With landfills becoming full, trash is often dumped in the ocean. More trash blows out to the seas from land. Plastic is by far the most destructive. Plastic is designed to be tossed away easily and be indestructible - and pretty much is - and is used for everything. Balloons and plastic bags look like jellyfish and are eaten by turtles, dolphins, etc., where they swell up in the stomach and twist around organs, killing the animals. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, essentially a floating island made up of trash, is estimated at being somewhere between the size of Texas and the size of the entire continental USA. 5gyres is an great website for learning more about this.
- ILLEGAL FISHING. This is much, much more prevalent than one would believe. According to this database of black market activities, illegal fishing brings in $23 billion a year. The total for all environmental black market activities is only $82 billion. This includes diamond and oil smuggling, illegal logging, wildlife and animal smuggling, etc. Pirate fishing is usually done with nets and trawls that are illegal, which causes the death of many, many protected animals, juvenile fish, and others. They also ignore protected zones. The Environmental Justice Foundation has some great resources about this.
- BYCATCH. Bycatch is when nets, trawls, etc. catch species other than their intended catch. A well known example of this would be tuna nets catching dolphins. The bycatch, of course, dies, and becomes discarded as they are of no use to the fishers. Catching shrimp has the highest incident of this. While shrimp fisheries catch 2% of the world's caught fish (by weight), they are responsible for over 33% of the total bycatch. Shrimp trawls in particular kill sea turtles, who often stay at the bottom of the sea and get caught up. While tuna is now often labeled as "dolphin safe," the killing of dolphins and whales as a result of bycatch is increasing. Multiple species are a year or two away from becoming extinct.
- BOTTOM TRAWLING. This is the method used to catch cod, squid, rockfish, shrimp, and other popular species. To quote wikipedia on how trawling works: "The trawl doors disturb the sea bed, create a cloud of muddy water which hides the oncoming trawl net and generates a noise which attracts fish. The fish begin to swim in front of the net mouth, but do not seem to be distressed by it. As the trawl continues along the seabed, fish begin to tire and slip backwards into the net. Finally, the fish become exhausted and drop back, into the "cod end" and are caught." In 2006, the UN reported that 95% of the damage to the sea floor is done by bottom trawling. One sweep can destroy 25% of the floor. Entire coral reefs and other ecosystems that have taken hundreds of years to grow are destroyed in mere minutes.
- BLAST FISHING uses dynamite to kill all of the fish, which makes for easy picking up. The dynamite kills all species in the area and destroys the habitat.
- OVERFISHING. This one is pretty obvious. The human population is increasing dramatically, making fish more in demand. More fish are caught, more fish are killed. Species decline, but the demand continues to increase, further reducing populations. Overfishing has other consequences. Feeder species, such as snails, are being killed off. These species help remove bacteria from fish. The spread of disease is increasing and causing further destruction of populations. Larger species that feed on jellyfish have depleted to such an extent that jellyfish are essentially taking over the world.
- OCEAN ACIDIFICATION A reduction in the ocean's pH thanks to the global increase in carbon dioxide, caused by how industrialized society has become.
-RUNOFF AND DISCHARGE. Industrial waste, sewer waste, farm runoff, and surface runoff from construction all goes to waterways, which all lead to the ocean. Think of all the chemicals washed out to sea daily from those things.
There are many other problems with fishing practices, noise pollution, oil spills, shark finning, asian fishing practices that involve killing dolphins, whales, and basically whatever they can catch, and onwards.
You can do lots of easy things to help.
By your fish fresh. Find out where it came from and how it was caught! If they don't know, move on to another seller. Look at the rest of what they sell, their guarantees, and their practices.
Reduce your use of plastic! Reuse plastic bottles; tap water is often much cleaner than store bough bottled water, anyway. Recycle your plastic bags. Buy cotton market bags to use when grocery shopping. If you don't need a bag, don't take one! Do you really need a bag just for that dvd or new t-shirt? If on a big shopping trip, start with stores that use paper bags with handles. Ask for a bigger bag. At other stores, put your stuff in that bag instead of getting more. Don't let balloons go into the sky. This is something I've been crazy about since I was little and first learned where those balloons go. Dispose of them in a proper way, and if it's a wedding or other event, use something else. Buy better bath products! Use shampoo bars instead of bottled stuff. Buy handmade soaps instead of store bought ones - you'll be reducing plastic, not using animal fat or other harmful chemicals, and buying a product that lasts longer and is much better for your skin. Along with more popular places like Lush, Etsy is a wonderful place to get all of your beauty and body care products. You can get soaps in practically every scent imaginable and have tons of choices. I get all of my stuff from here, and am a bit addicted to it.
Encourage kids to take an interest in oceans and marine animals. As a birthday present, christmas present, or just a present for doing a good job at something, give them a gift of an adopted animal instead of another plastic toy. Many organizations have an "adopt an animal" program along with just giving a donation. They generally send a certificate, a photo to frame, and info about the species.