5 Human Habits Harmful to Ocean Health
By Jaymi Heimbuch, Planet Green
No matter where we live, even if we’re in the middle of the Mojave desert or the middle of farmland in the mid-west, our connection to the ocean is surprisingly direct. The planet’s marine systems are intricately linked with our daily activities, even when those activities seem trivial or distant. Here are five ways small choices add up to big problems for the ocean’s health.
1. Carbon Emissions and Ocean Acidification
Every time we flip on the lights, turn on the water faucet, charge a cell phone, hop a plane or in any other way create carbon emissions, we’re directly causing the acidification of the ocean and the harmful disruption of marine life that results. The ocean can absorb about two-thirds of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, but the more CO2 it tries to absorb, the more acidic it becomes. This altered pH causes everything from the softening or thickening of crustacean shells to the bleaching of corals to the overabundance of jellyfish. As we pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, ocean acidification worsens and marine life is being thrown out of whack.
Decisions like skipping an unnecessary plane ride, eating less meat, and buying green power can radically reduce your carbon footprint, and help alleviate one of the biggest threats facing our oceans.
2. Packaging and the Pacific Garbage Patch
Americans generate a lot of trash. Each of us tosses about 185 pounds of plastic per year, a vast amount of it from packaging. From plastic bags, to take-out containers, to packaging used for everything from toys to food, we use up and throw out an incredible amount of something that will never, ever disappear. In fact, much of it is making re-appearances in our oceans. The Pacific Garbage Patch and four other trash vortexes illustrate the problem of plastics in our oceans. Plastics are not only killing marine life, but also entering the food chain to ultimately end up on our dinner plates through the seafood we eat.
By making purchases that take into account the packaging of the products, and choosing to a) minimize as much as possible how much packaging we consume and b) recycling as much of what we do end up consuming as possible, we can make big strides in stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean.
3. Sushi Dinner and Disappearing Seafood
Our fisheries that once seemed endless are now reaching the brink of collapse. Scientists estimate that if our current practices continue, 100 percent of global fisheries will completely collapse by 2050. That is a very short time from now. Even if you think of yourself as a sushi addict in the worst way, or can’t seem to live without salmon or shrimp a couple times a week, you can still make sustainable choices.
By cutting back where you can, keeping an eye on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Guide, and taking advantage of handy techy tools for buying fish, you can help ensure that our seas will have fish in the future.
Photo Credit: mdid via Flickr
4. Over-Consumption and Whale Deaths
Wait, ordering that toy from Amazon.com could cause whale deaths? The short answer is yes. While humans have been sailing the seas for millennia, the shipping industry has skyrocketed over the last few decades. Much of that is due to our rabid consumption habits. Raw materials are transported on container ships to manufacturing plants, and products are then loaded up on ships to be transported to the hands of consumers. The more stuff we consume, the more stuff needs to be shipped across oceans. But crossing paths with those container ships and carrier vessels are whales.
The loud sounds of ships — or acoustic smog — makes it hard for whales to communicate with one another, which means heightened stress levels and decreased opportunities for mating and feeding, among other consequences. Even worse, collision with ships is a major problem for whales, including threatened and endangered species.
Reducing our consumption of material goods can literally help threatened whale populations recover.
5. Driving and Deep-water Oil Wells
Unless you’ve been living far, far away from any media source, you’re probably well aware of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to Deepwater Horizon, a BP-owned offshore oil rig that has been leaking since late April. It takes just the tiniest leap of logic to connect our reliance on oil to our car-dependent culture. Currently the US uses about 19.7 million barrels of oil a day, of which 71 percent goes to transportation via cars, trucks, buses, airplanes. So, the longer we stay reliant on fossil-fuel powered vehicles to get from point A to point B, rather than bikes and public transportation, the longer we stay dependent on drilling for those rapidly diminishing fossil fuels, which means a high likelihood of risky wells placed in deep water areas of the ocean and the statistically inevitable occurrence of another disaster like the one playing out in the Gulf of Mexico.
Minimizing our reliance on oil equates to keeping our oceans safe from deadly pollution.