Ocean

Five ways individuals can help save the oceans

A plastic bottle is seen floating in an Adriatic sea of the island Mljet, Croatia, May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Image: REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Daniela Fernandez
Global Shaper, Los Angeles Hub, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Member of Friends of Ocean Action
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I have never understood why society believes young people are not capable of changing the world; ideas change the world, and young people are full of ideas and the energy to implement them.

Most people today are not in the business of generating new ideas or actively seeking new ways to look at the world. Instead, they are trying to figure out how to maximize their gain within the constraints of their reality. It is acceptance of that reality that is keeping us stuck in the same cycles that are degrading our planet. Young people, or people who are young at heart, are the ones willing to look at how things are done and ask: why? These are the people the world needs most.

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From that perspective, you can help protect our ocean in these tangible ways:

1. Stop using disposable products

One of the antiquated mentalities that we need to replace in our society is that of comfort over sustainability.

Comfort has become so ingrained in daily life that we have forgotten what we are sacrificing to enjoy it. We forget that the cost is not just 5 minutes of your life to pack reusable tupperware, or getting weird looks at a local coffee shop when you ask them to fill your thermos: the cost is the health of our environment and the other species with whom we share this planet. And if you think recycling will save you, consider that of the nearly 40 million tonnes of plastic generated in the US last year, only 4.4% of it was properly recycled. Saving the planet is going to require significant sacrifices, and it starts with enduring small inconveniences and discomforts.

2. Pick up trash at beaches and waterways

Changing society’s approach to comfort is going to take a while. So in the meantime, work on mitigating the visible effects by starting or joining a beach or waterway cleanup.

Picking up trash might feel insignificant, especially given that 8 billion tonnes of debris end up in the ocean annually (the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic being dumped into the ocean every minute). However, getting your hands dirty with the consequences of consumption is the most motivating way to make a change in your own life. Not only that, but picking up trash at a beach or riverway means you are removing it from the ecosystem.

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3. Choose your sunscreen wisely

Scientists estimate that 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen—the equivalent of 25 to 60 million bottles—wash off of snorkelers and swimmers into coral reef environments each year. Last year, Hawaii became the first state to pass groundbreaking legislation that prohibits the sales of sunscreens made with ingredients (oxybenzone and octinoxate) typically found in chemical-based sunscreens. Do your research and find ocean-friendly sunscreen!

4. Now choose everything else wisely, too

Now that you know that sunscreen is an ocean pollutant, think about household items that seem innocuous but which travel through waterways into the ocean. These are mostly cleaning products, including laundry detergent, chemical solvents, and personal cosmetics and hygiene products. Many people assume that all wastewater is adequately treated, but they don’t know that many sewage systems in modern cities are combined sewage systems, meaning that there is one system to accommodate sewage and storm runoff. So when there’s a storm, the system is overwhelmed with water, and to relieve it sewage flows straight into the ocean. In fact, there are plenty of “nonpoint” pollution sources; those that, through runoff, contribute to ocean pollution. So the lawn fertilizer or pesticides you use in your garden matter, too.

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5. Share your choices and commitments with others

By now you have picked up on the theme of this list: change comes from the choices you make. In our current reality, we assume we are at the mercy of big companies who decide what we can buy, but our power lies in our power to choose. With every choice we make, especially those we put our money behind, we cast our vote for what we care about.

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Let people see how much you care, even if it feels uncool or scary or awkward. The truth is that everybody else cares, too—but repeated exposure to “the way things are” has made them forget their young heart that used to believe anything was possible.

Take your stand and others will stand alongside you.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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