The Ocean Needs Our Help
Fifty feet below the surface of the water in the Florida Keys I looked around and took in the incredible scenery: a beautiful rainbow fish, a sea turtle floating above me, and a plastic bag stuck to the coral reef.
As a scuba diver, I get to see the ocean in a way that the average person doesn’t. I get to spend an hour underwater getting close to turtles and nurse sharks. I get to play with stingrays and admire mora eels. And I get to see first-hand the damage that we, as humans, are causing to the oceans.
Finding a piece of trash in the ocean is, unfortunately, not uncommon. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every single year. Most commonly this is beverage bottles and caps, single-use plastic bags, food wrappers, cups and plates, and straws. Once in the water, this trash doesn’t break down. Instead, it wreaks havoc on the underwater environment. Marine animals die both from getting caught in the debris and mistaking it for food.
According to NOAA, along with overfishing, commercial whaling, and climate change, plastic pollution is one of the top threats facing the oceans.
This damage could easily be minimized if everyone recycled, but according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, only 35.2 percent of Americans actually do. Though recycling is a small, and fairly easy, step to take, not even half of the U.S population makes the effort.
The ocean covers 70 percent of the world’s surface. Over 2.2 million species live in the ocean, and yet humans find it difficult to make small changes that would help their habitats.
Maybe we are an inherently selfish species. The trash in the ocean isn’t directly affecting us, so why should we care? But humans rely on the ocean just as animals do. The ocean produces over half of the world's oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere, according to NOAA. The U.S. ocean economy produces $282 billion and employs almost three million people, and many medicinal products, including ingredients that help fight cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and heart disease come from the ocean.
So maybe, we aren’t selfish. Maybe the task of saving the oceans just seems all too daunting. Yes, overfishing and climate change may not be within your reach to fix, but there are many small steps that anyone can and should take to have a positive impact. In addition to recycling, using reusable bags and water bottles, choosing energy-efficient light bulbs, not oversetting your thermostat, and conserving water are all easy first steps to take. If you want to take it a step further, join a beach cleanup in your area. Ocean Conservancy Trash Free Seas makes it easy to find volunteer opportunities all around the world.
When I dive, I get to see what exactly we will lose if we don’t step up and start protecting our oceans. I come face to face with the amazing animals whose homes are being destroyed and who have the potential of choking on the plastic bag that was never recycled.
When I was diving in Florida and saw the plastic bag stuck to a coral reef, I carefully took the trash and stuck it in the pocket of my dive vest. When I got back to land, I made sure to recycle it properly, before it had the chance to do any more damage to the oceans that already so badly need our help.