In the Pacific Ocean, where tides and winds converge and sweep round and round in a never-ending vortex, plastic and debris collect across the surface for 1.6 million km2 – that’s 20 Scotlands. Several of these great garbage patches exist. Wherever there is a gyre, there is inevitably becalmed litter – the human legacy. In 2050, plastic may very well outweigh fish in our waterways.
Unseen, microplastics lurk under the surface of these patches, and many other spaces besides. Animals regularly mistake it as food, and it leaches into their system, causing untold damage. Predators will eat several prey, each with at least some level of microplastics in their system – bioaccumulating and bioconcentrating such plastics up the food chain. Eventually, the microplastics come back to haunt us.
Seabeds off the coast of the UK are regularly trawled – a huge, heavy net is tracked and dragged across or over, damaging habitats and disturbing the seafloor which then releases carbon. It is for catching bottom-dwelling fish. It also catches everything else. This story is repeated off many coasts – and where loose or lost or left fishing gear drifts in the ocean, it still does its job diligently, the so-called phenomenon of ghost fishing.
71% of our planet’s surface is water. Only 7% is protected.
And yet, in Baltimore’s harbour (Maryland, USA), a light-hearted fanbase has formed for “Mr Trash Wheel”, a machine built to take out litter from the sea surface, with eyes watching its adoring crowds. His family members patrol other harbours and coastlines around Baltimore – such as Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel.
And yet, tonnes upon tonnes of ocean waste have been upcycled, cleaned, and recycled by the Sequeal Initiative, which is a community of collaborators uniting everyone from fishermen, to scientists, to NGOs. And this is just one initiative out of thousands across the world working to clear ocean waste.
And yet, after the breath-taking and moving Blue Planet 2 documentary series, David Attenborough galvanised the UK public into demanding a plastic microbead ban, an increased plastic bag charge from 5p to 10p, an increased use of re-usable water bottles and resulted other positive changes in behaviour.
And yet, more and more people are installing or using microplastic filters when washing their clothes, preventing the microplastic shed from non-natural clothes materials from making it to our waterways. There’s a coral farming robot called CHARM which grows (or re-grows) coral reefs. New deep learning techniques helps digital environmental surveys map marine megafauna and human activity. There are so many unique innovations quietly making small (or big) changes that will revolutionise things the general public never even contemplate.
We all know how important the water is to our existence. But there’s more to it than that – humans have always been taken by the ocean. Despite knowing more about space than the ocean, we are equal parts intrigued and spooked by the hadal depths. Pacific Rim, Eldritch Deep Ones, Atlantis, Poseidon, Aquaman, sirens and mermaids, Pirates of the Caribbean and sea shanties – we are aware of the mystery and power of the oceans and respond as humans tend to do: with stories.
And it’s with stories that we drive change – from documentaries to not-for-profit’s social medias - so it is fitting for us to return to the World Ocean Day message:
Today is a day to celebrate our blue planet with World Ocean Day, and to drive action to conserve it. This year the action is focused on the 30x30 campaign – the push to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, which is necessary in a world of overfishing, coral bleaching, great garbage patches, seaspiracies.
Sign the petition to add your voice to the campaign, and put pressure on local governments to commit to protection by creating marine protected areas. Especially as COP26 approaches in November, the public is more and more aware of environmental issues and, we hope, also ways in which they can make a real difference.