Wednesday, May 7, 2014

5 Changes YOU can make to help Protect the Ocean

The threats faced by our ocean at times seem overwhelming. Organizations like Sea Save Foundation have made considerable difference in conserving the ocean. But in the face of pollution, overfishing and other daunting problems, it’d make me wonder ‘What role can I – an individual - play in conserving these vast water bodies?’ Just like little drops of water make the mighty ocean, every small act can lead to big wonders.

Here are 5 changes you can make to help make a difference in conserving the oceanic ecosystems.

1. Make Better Seafood Choices

You walk into a grocery store; head over to purchase seafood because it’s a healthy option. But is this resource sustainable? According to Seafood Watch, we take over 1/2 billion pounds of seafood out of the ocean each day. Poor fishing practices are harming the sea floor, damaging fragile ecosystems like coral. Making better seafood choices, you can help ensure that there are more fish in the sea.

This has spurred a trend of aquaculture; similar to raising cows and sheep on land, they raise fish. Nearly half of the fish we consume today comes from one of these fishing farms. Sustainable fish farming respects the surrounding environment, uses water and other resources wisely, and does not interfere with natural, wild fish populations. You can find out whether the fish farm which supplies to your neighborhood grocery store or restaurant is environmentally responsible with the Sea Food Watch App.

2. Discard with Care 

Photo Credit: Wendy Wiltse

Trash which is collected from our homes every week doesn’t simply disappear. Study of the Pacific Ocean floor shows accumulation of manmade trash items like rubber tires, glass bottles, leather shoes etc. as deep as 13,000 feet on the seafloor. About a third of it is plastic. In the absence of light, heat, and bacteria, plastic takes many years to degrade, posing a major hazard for marine animals. Sea birds, turtles, seals, and other animals often mistake floating plastic for food or become tangled in it and die. Help prevent this by curbing your family's throwaway habits.

Never flush non-degradable products, such as disposable diapers or plastic tampon applications, down the toilet. These products damage the sewage treatment process and end up littering beaches and waters. Do not throw cigarette butts on the ground or out car windows. Such loose trash will trickle into the storm drain which gets carried to the ocean. Helium balloons released outside often end up in the ocean and harm animals that mistake them for food.

Ultimately, all the waste we throw into the water comes back to bite us. Hormones, antidepressants, painkillers, and other drugs show up in our water supply and harm aquatic life. People have reported getting sick from swimming and eating fish from polluted bodies of water.  Contact your local government body to learn the proper methods of disposal for unused or expired medications, batteries, paint, appliances and other products.

3. Be a Responsible Beach-Goer

We humans love the beach and a trip to the beach or out on the water to snorkel or fish can be a great way to celebrate the weekend, or your holiday. But that doesn't mean we're always kind to the beach. Our indifference results in beach erosion and widespread pollution. Explore and appreciate the ocean without interfering with wildlife or removing rocks and coral. When walking on sand dunes, be careful of any grasses and plants growing there. Living plants help hold sand in place. Dead plants and seaweed provide fertilizer. Both should be left alone. Avoid purchasing items such as coral jewelry, tortoiseshell hair accessories (made from hawksbill turtles), and shark products. Be kind to your beach. Leave it cleaner than you found it.

4. Be Considerate of Sea Life Habitats

Photo Credit: St. Thomas Shore Excursions
Every terrain is important to marine life. Shallow tide pools on rocky shores can be a great place to look for interesting marine life. But be careful not to trample on these fragile critters and their homes. Don't bother sea birds, mammals, and turtles or their nesting grounds. Look, but don't touch.
When snorkeling or diving, never touch the reef. Corals and other animals are fragile and easily killed by a grasping hand or careless flipper. Also never feed or handle marine animals.
Never dispose of fishing line or nets in the water. They entangle, injure or kill unsuspecting animals.

5. Get Involved

Take part in a beach cleanup. Report illegal dumping to your local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency or the local coast guard. Encourage your local government to recycle and upgrade sewage treatment systems. Urge public officials to support measures that help the ocean.
State and local governments issue seafood contamination warnings and beach closure warnings. Read labels and signs and ask questions. By learning why a beach was closed or why certain seafood is contaminated, you may also learn how to prevent it from happening again. Learn more about the ocean and conservation by reading, watching films, attending lectures, or visiting aquariums and museums.

If you live in a landlocked region, you can still help. Look for local rivers, lakes or streams; these ecosystems in your backyard ultimately trickle down into the ocean. In celebration of the upcoming Earth Day on April 22nd, spearhead a fun and impactful event ‘Give ‘em the Fin’ campaign. Join us on Facebook

What you do on your own may seem like a drop in the bucket, but if we work together, we can make a huge difference. So let’s get started!