I wave but have no hands
I’m wet but I’m not a towel
I have currents but no electricity
I contain fish but I’m not a tank
I cover a lot of the planet but I’m not land
What am I?
You probably guessed right.
Today is World Oceans Day and the theme for this year is life and livelihoods.
What impact does the ocean have on our life and livelihood?
The oceans produce 50% of the world’s oxygen, regulate the climate by transferring heat to the poles and are an important source of food and transportation of goods. Along with containing around 80% of all life on earth, oceans also are a source of livelihood for many, majority of who belong to developing economies. According to this article, “with an over 7,500-km-long coastline spread across nine coastal states, four union territories (UTs) – including two island UTs, 12 major, and 200 minor ports, India’s blue economy supports 95% of the country’s business through transportation and contributes an estimated 4% to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).” So, it is safe to say that the ocean is pretty vital. So now, lets flip the question:
What impact does our life and livelihood have on the ocean?
Like all other things, goods that are available in abundance are often exploited. Apart from overfishing which reduces marine biodiversity drastically, ocean pollution is caused by 2 main things: chemicals and marine debris aka trash.
Both these factors can pose a threat to the marine life who are prone to getting entangled or consuming the toxic materials, which is bad for them as well as for humans who eventually consume the fish.
One of the main industries that causes ocean pollution is the beauty industry. This happens mainly because of Single use plastics. We find single use plastics most commonly in the packaging of beauty products like deodorants, body washes, shampoos and face washes to name a few. This plastic more often than not lands up in the ocean rather than landfills giving rise to literal islands of trash known as garbage patches. According to the Green sail, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of the most startling examples of this buildup — the Patch measures 1.6 million km2 and contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic”.
A problem worse than this is microplastics. Mostly found in exfoliators and scrubs, these tiny pieces of plastic are terribly dangerous for aquatic life as it is almost certain that it will end up in the digestive tract of marine animals due to its size and start leaching chemicals, which could potentially land up in our bodies too by the way of consumption. Similar is the problem of saponins, the chemical that causes your shampoo to lather while also causing ocean pollution.
And the final blow comes from the sunscreen you apply. The UV-filters for example in sun protection products have been repeatedly blamed for harmful effects toward aquatic ecosystems, and particularly in coral reef areas. According to a 2016 study, some of the chemicals found in sunscreen and other personal care products threaten the health of coral reef and affect reef ecosystem. The journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology published a study stating increased susceptibility to bleaching, DNA damage, abnormal skeletal growth and gross deformities of baby coral. The chemical based sunscreens use chemical compounds like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene etc as their active ingredients. High coral bleaching is caused by these compounds especially when they are broken into nanoparticles.
What can we do to stop ocean pollution?
As you can see, this is a very real problem. Countries like Europe have even passed regulations that prohibit the use of some of these materials. The SDGs proposed by the UN also highlight Using marine resources sustainably and conserving them in the 14th SDG. So, it is high time we do our part towards protecting the marine ecosystem.
A great place to start is to educate yourself & be mindful of what you buy and the ingredients it contains. For example, mineral based sunscreens like ours often don’t contain nanoparticles and active minerals used in them like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not harmful for coral reefs and are not linked to coral bleaching i.e, the sunscreens made from them are marine safe.
Considering that the average human uses 10 bottles of shampoos a year, using shampoos, face washes and deodorants that are packaged well and made with safe ingredients is a small step that can go a long way to protect the oceans and keep them clean.