The health of our ocean – and how WE CAN make a difference
As divers, we appreciate that the ocean is being shared with us by its underwater inhabitants. So when the 2015 WWF Living Blue Planet Report was recently released, it was sobering to see some pretty heavy statistics. This one in particular caught my eye, as there is only one species on Earth responsible for it: More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing more than 250,000 tonnes are currently in the sea.
Released every two years, the Living Planet Report analyses the impact of human activity on the health of our planet. The 2014 report showed some alarming trends in biodiversity, so a special report was put together this year to delve deeper into the health status of our oceans and instil a sense of urgency in us all.
Before I go on, it’s important to note that solutions do exist and the ocean is resilient if pressures are dealt with in a timely manner. I stress this because of something called “compassion fatigue”. This is secondary traumatic stress that can result in apathy and the gradual lessoning of compassion. It’s so rare to turn on the news and not hear about death or destruction that we are at risk of our compassion simply wearing out. But knowing that there are solutions might make us feel less helpless and more inclined to act, at least on a local scale.
That being said, almost a quarter of rays, skates and sharks are now threatened with extinction, mainly due to overfishing. Twenty-nine percent of the the world’s fish stocks are now classified as overfished, with a further 61 percent “fully exploited”. Overall, populations of marine vertebrates declined by almost 50 percent since 1970, thanks largely to human exploitation. Not only is this going to have an impact on ecosystem stability, but is also of major concern from an economic and social perspective. Global food security is at risk along with the livelihoods of coastal communities that depend on fish to survive.
But while they’re staggering stats, don’t get caught up in how monumental the task at hand seems. Do your bit to help by purchasing only sustainable seafood – this includes when you dine out. As consumers, until we demand something, there will be no change. Check out the Marine Stewardship Council’s certified sustainable seafood program here, along with purchasing and dining out guides. If your local seafood shop doesn’t stock MSC-certified seafood, ask why, and discontinue your custom until you can buy sustainable seafood there. The power really is in your hands.
You can also write to or petition your local Member of Parliament about increasing protected marine areas, or producing more sustainable infrastructure using efficient energy and materials that will have less impact on our oceans. We can do this in our own homes as well – less reliance on fossil fuels could result in a decrease in offshore oil and gas extraction, resulting in the decreased risk of major oil spills and environmental disasters.
And of course, as divers we should already be practising respectful diving by simply looking and not touching. However, physical damage and the kicking up of sediment from scuba divers and snorkelers is of concern, forming part of the tourism industry’s impact on our oceans. The choices we make as both divers and consumers can influence tourism operators – and other divers – to act more responsibly and sustainably. That plastic stat I mentioned at the beginning? The next time you dive, consider taking a mesh bag with you in order to collect any rubbish you find. Or maybe even organise a clean-up dive if you know of a spot that could do with some help. The Project AWARE Foundation is a growing movement where we can protect our seas one dive at a time.
Check out the full WWF report here.