Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said,
“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans”.
How right he was. Jacques-Yves Cousteau died in 1997. Twenty-four years later, and the problem is much worse. It is a sickening fact that today our oceans contain around 273,317 tonnes of microplastics. To help us get our heads around that figure, the RMS Titanic weighed approximately 47,071 tonnes when she sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15th, 1912. So, the amount of microplastics floating around and polluting our oceans today, is equivalent in weight to 5.8 RMS Titanics!
What are Microplastics?
For those who aren’t quite sure what microplastics are, they are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size, that may have started out much larger, but for microplastics found in the oceans, the action of the waves, sand, and ultra-violet light, has broken them down into smaller pieces. Microplastics can be found in lots of products, from plastic bags, bottles, beauty products and clothing, and it is also an industrial waste product. Some plastics are designed to be made less than 5mm in size, such as microbeads, which are found in some toothpastes and in beauty products. Plastics are generally lightweight, when compared to the likes of some other materials such as metals and are buoyant in water. Unlike the RMS Titanic, plastic doesn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean and stay put. Once in our oceans, it travels about, a lot. Tiny microplastics get everywhere. Next time you are walking on a beach, take a close look at the matting of seaweed on the seashore when the tide is out, and you will find microplastics snarled between the fronds. One of the biggest problems with plastic that small, is that the smaller the plastic, the easier it is for marine life to ingest it and the more likely it is to be mistaken for food by marine life and birds. Seals, whales, fish, all manner of marine life suffers because of microplastics. It is estimated that a staggering 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic pollution every year. That’s a shocking figure when you let it sink in. Sea birds are also victims of this type of pollution, and even us humans don’t escape from the harm that microplastics in the oceans cause.
Shellfish and small fish, which are generally eaten whole, pose the largest threat to humans with regards to microplastics. Other larger seafood, though not quite as much of a threat to us as shellfish and small fish eaten whole, is still a cause for great concern. Most of the microplastics in these larger fish, have been ‘filtered’ by their digestive tracts, and as we tend not to eat this part of this range of seafood, our ingestion of microplastics through them is less.
If you’ve kept reading until now, and not run for the hills, given up eating fish for good, and decided the end of the world is nigh, then good for you! Because all hope is not lost!
The turning of the tide
For decades now, there has been a slow but growing public awareness, across the globe. More and more of us stop to consider how ethical a product is before we buy it. More of us are asking questions about the goods we buy: Where did it come from? Who made it? How was it made? More of us are taking an interest in the welfare of our planet and actively ‘doing our bit’. And don’t think for one moment that ‘doing our bit’ doesn’t count. It does! The population of our planet is, as this post is being written, 7,878,414,999 people! So, here is something to think about to help us realise that ‘doing our bit’ really does count.
Let’s say, this week, one in every 50,000 people on this planet, decide they are going to stop their use of single-use plastic in two small and easy ways. From now on they will stop buying water in plastic bottles, and instead, refill glass bottles, thermos flasks, or re-use old plastic bottles. Secondly, they will not buy their fruit and veg ready-wrapped in plastic, but instead buy it the old-fashioned and more selective way, hand-picking the choicest on offer. That’s two small changes that 157,568 people are going to make this week globally. Just think of that much fewer plastic bottles knocking about with the potential of the ending up as rubbish in our oceans and loads less plastic food wrapping being thrown into landfills, or again, possibly ending up as litter in our seas. And if in the following month, each one of those same 157,568 people managed to influence just one other human being into doing the same… well… you get the drift. So yes, ‘doing our bit’ does count.
Image courtesy of Green Seas Trust (see our new affiliates page for more details about the wonderful work that they do to stop plastics entering our seas).
We are not alone
While some of us are ‘doing our bit’ on a small and personal, but collectively larger scale, there are others out there, also passionately dedicated to protecting our planet and to reversing the damage that has been done to our oceans and marine life for decades, and who are trying to stop it from continuing to happen in the future. These people and societies are actively helping to ‘clean up’ our seas and beaches, lobbying governments for change, trying to stop the future pollution of our oceans but on a much larger scale. They come from all walks of life, from all professions and across the generations. Many are scientists and marine conservationists, but equally, many are volunteers working for charitable organisations. One thing they all have in common, is their dedication to cleaning up our oceans and protecting them from future harm, promoting sustainable living, and putting the welfare of our planet high on their daily agenda. So, all hope is not lost; the tide is turning.
Here at Seapig, we are in the process of setting up an ‘Affiliates’ page on our website, where we will be sharing and promoting the efforts of our friends and affiliates, who share our passion for caring for our planet, our oceans, beaches, marine life, and promoting a more sustainable and ethical ‘way of life’, and like us, they share our understanding of how vital it is that globally, we reduce our use of single-use plastics. Our new ‘Affiliates’ page is where you will be able to find out all about them and what they do. Where you can read about their latest projects and where you will be kept up to date with relevant news, fund-raisers, and related promotions.
Before you dive into the websites of these worthwhile and inspiring friends and affiliates of Seapig, we leave you with another quote by the pioneer of marine conservation, co-developer of the Aqua-Lung and ‘father of underwater sea exploration’, Jacques-Yves Cousteau…
“The ocean, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”.
Written for Seapig by Lizzie Hudson