Why You Should Care About Our One World Ocean
By Marie Hasty, RN BSN
Where are you right now? Are you sitting on a beach in Miami? Or riding the Subway in New York? Maybe you’re at home, like so many of us these days. Wherever you are, I bet you didn’t realize that the choices you’re making today are affecting our seas.
That’s right! Even if you live in Colorado and have never seen a coastline, you’re influencing the health of our one world ocean. And it’s influencing you, too.
But what does “one world ocean” mean, anyway? Eco-scientists love to throw this term around, and maybe it sounds a little kumbaya-ish. What they mean is that, while our maps name separate oceans, the reality is that the ocean is one body of water.
This means that if you’re watching a wrapper blow down the beach in California, that trash can end up on a shore in Thailand. The same plastic bag you throw in your wastebasket can end up at the deepest point on Earth, the Mariana Trench.
The Life Blood of Our Planet
The Ocean has a lot of important jobs to do. It absorbs carbon and produces oxygen. It stabilizes the world climate, and supports all kinds of life ─ including you!
It does all these things by circulating water around the planet through massive ocean currents. Think of these currents as the arteries and veins of the earth. They transport water, weather, nutrients, animals, and trash from one side of our planet to another.
Deep ocean currents are fueled by differences in water density. These differences are caused by changes in both temperature and concentrations of salt. As surface water comes in from streams and rivers it grows salty, cold, and more dense. Water that is denser sinks to the bottom. It makes a watermill that powers the flow of water throughout our planet. Upwelling currents then bring nutrients from the seabed up to the surface. Here they feed seaweed and phytoplankton, important parts of the ocean food chain. These deep currents are the conveyor belts of earth, influencing nutrient and carbon dioxide levels across our planet.
Surface currents get energy from the sun and influence global climates. They carry heat from tropical regions into colder ones. The Gulf Stream, for instance, carries warm water up from Mexico. It goes along the southeastern coast of the United States, and across the Atlantic to Northern Europe. This massive current is the reason England stays warmer than areas at a similar latitude.
While ocean currents pump water throughout the earth, they also carry trash and pollution from one corner of the planet to another. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, famously known for being twice the size of Texas. What you may not know is that this is actually two discrete collections of trash, continuously being churned across the Pacific ocean like a laundry machine of junk.
While carrying plastics from California to Japan, ocean currents also pull trash from the surface down into the depths. Recent research leads scientists to believe that surface trash only adds up to about 1% of the total plastic in the ocean. The rest sinks to the bottom of our deep blue sea.
Even the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, is now polluted with trash. In a recent Ocean Blue Project blog post, we learned that a 2019 dive into the trench revealed a plastic bag and candy wrappers.
Microtrash in Every Corner
Scientists now estimate that over 8 million tons of plastic waste enter our oceans every year.
When we picture trash we think of it in its most visible forms. Cigarette butts, sandwich baggies, beer cans, and water bottles are some of the first things that come to my mind. But this isn’t what trash looks like by the time it has travelled around the world. While being carried down streams, roughed up in culverts, and flushed across the pacific, our trash gets transformed. What started as a pristine water bottle gets broken down into shards. Some pieces even break down to become something worse ─ microplastics.
Even though microplastics can be difficult to see, they are everywhere. From the tops of mountains to the bottom of the sea, microplastics are covering our earth.
Microtrash is next to impossible for scientists to track. So, it’s difficult to know how much of it is in our waters. We know one thing for sure; there is a lot of it. It is in every water ecosystem, from alpine lakes and streams to the darkest depths of the ocean. The Arctic seafloor alone has seen a 23-fold increase in microplastic concentration in only 12 years. Even snow has been found to have high concentrations of these destructive pollutants. Imagine, plastic so small that it can float into the clouds.
Pollution doesn’t abide by lines on the map. The choices we make, even far away from the oceans, have long and lasting effects on the sea and our planet as a whole.
A Problem for One of Us Is a Problem for All of Us
What goes around comes around. Hurting our environment only ends up hurting ourselves. There are so many ways that destroying our one world ocean comes back to bite us in the end.
In 2017, the United Nations released a fact sheet for their Ocean Conference. Here are a few of the staggering facts:
● Ocean warming from carbon emissions affects people globally. This causes more destructive weather events such as hurricanes and monsoons. Recent estimates show weather disasters cost $520 billion to the world economy. They also push 26 million people into poverty each year.
● Around 10% of the world’s population lives within 10 meters of sea levels. They will all be climate refugees as global sea levels rise.
● 80% of pollution in our oceans originates from land. So even if you’ve never seen the coast, the coast has seen your waste.
● One of the effects of land waste is that it is harmful to fish, an important source of animal protein for most of the world’s population. Nutrients in fish are important for neurological development in children. They are also an important part of cardiovascular health in adults. But as the seas warm, fish die. Overfishing is another reason why many species of fish are declining at alarming rates. Pesticides and chemicals from land lead to toxic blooms of algae that also kill marine life. If you’re a fan of seafood like me, you should be worried.
● As much as we hurt it, our ocean is trying to protect us. The ocean holds 50 times more carbon than our atmosphere. It slows rates of climate change by absorbing human emissions.
What Can I Do for Our One World Ocean?
There are so many ways to help our global seas!
Stay informed to stay motivated. Keep up to date on fascinating and enriching ocean news by subscribing to the Ocean Blue Project Blog.
Teach and engage your children with our Blue Schools Program! We are collaborating with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association. Together, we’ve created a unique curriculum for you and your children. Coming in the fall of this year, Blue Schools will include classroom and home learning. Kids will also take part in outdoor field experiences and community integration projects.
Prevent microtrash from getting to our oceans by not using plastic in the first place. Reusable water bottles are one easy way to limit your plastic consumption. You can stop using plastic bottles and support the ocean by checking out our Ocean Blue Shop. Pick up an Eco-Friendly Reusable Water Bottle and “Remove 30 pounds of plastic with just one water bottle!”.
Donate to Ocean Blue Project! For every dollar donated, we remove 1lb of trash from our one world ocean.
Join us in cleaning up your local shores. You can help organize or join a beach clean-up through one of our Community Cleanup Campaigns.
Donate with every eligible Amazon purchase! Make Ocean Blue Project your Amazon Smile recipient.
Stop the straw use! Buy reusable straws or sip from the lid instead.
Choose items that are made to last. By buying consciously you can limit your waste and help your wallet!
Be mindful of your habits and choices. Know that how you choose to live today will affect all corners of the globe tomorrow, and future generations forever.
Author Bio: Marie Hasty is a COVID ICU Nurse, writer, painter, and planet advocate.