By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – June 8, 2016 – Comment

After I read news stories from last year’s World Oceans Day, I already had my inspiration for what I was going to write about THIS year. It was this quote from Alyssa Isakower, World Oceans Day Coordinator:

“The ocean is the heart of our planet, and like your heart pumping blood through your body, the ocean connects all people across our planet.”

I can really get behind the analogy and perfect visual imagery of our world oceans as the planet’s circulatory system. The oceans represent the heart and nutrient-carrying blood that sustains and nourishes all life on this planet. As I wrote about in my 2015 World Oceans Month piece, from literally feeding populations with all manner of fish, vegetation and other foods of the sea, to supporting billions of dollars in commerce and jobs, generating about half the world’s oxygen, and providing so very many other resources, it’s not difficult to understand how the ocean is a “vital organ” for life.  Evaporation of ocean water forms clouds that transport water in forms of rain and snow that sustain lakes and rivers, recharges groundwater.  Viewed from outer space, the oceans define our blue planet.

World Oceans Day is all about keeping that ‘heart’ healthy, and this year the focus is plastic. To continue our analogy, plastics have become the cholesterol of our ocean-heart, clogging the arteries and poisoning the rest of the body! It’s estimated that 8 million tons of plastic trash enter the oceans every year, threatening marine life through entanglement and choking. Moreover, even when plastic eventually biodegrades, it releases toxins – that is, if the tiny plastic pieces aren’t first mistaken for food and consumed, causing animals to die from digestion complications or malnutrition. By upsetting the oceanic ecosystem, plastics also erode many, many more of the oceans’ benefits.

If you’re wondering if all that plastic could really “clog” the massive ocean system – do a little research on the world’s Garbage Patches, which in very simplified terms are five pseudo-islands of garbage – consisting mainly of plastic waste – in the world’s ocean. And we’re not talking a quaint little Nantucket! The Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch:

  • Measures approximately twice the size of Texas (or, 5,120 times Nantucket!)
  • Runs an estimated 9 feet deep
  • Weighs in at about 7 million tons
  • Contains more 6 times more plastic than life-sustaining plankton

Following our analogy, one may ask, “So, what can I do to fix it – diet and exercise?” 

Yes, and yes!

  • Diet and exercise: People can help immensely simply by “consuming” less plastic and finding alternatives for plastic shopping bags, water bottles, etc., as well as by becoming active in shoreline cleanup events.
  • Surgery: The Ocean Cleanup movement is actually at work building extractors to decrease the Garbage Patches.

While progress continues on the last two solutions, it is largely up to the people of the planet to make an impact… which brings us back to World Oceans Day 2016 and its call to action for everyone to do their part in limiting or even discontinuing use of plastic where alternatives exist, as well as taking steps to help prevent plastic waste from making its way into our oceans.