Earth’s oceans are a vital part of the environment: not only do they contain 97% percent of the planet’s livable habitat and act as a home to more than seven hundred different species, but our oceans generate half of the oxygen humans breathe while absorbing 30% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[i] Considering that the oceans have such a huge impact on the environment and our lives, it’s shocking to discover that only one percent of ocean areas are protected by law.
Threats to Oceans
Many different factors are negatively impacting the health of our oceans; over the past few decades, these have converged to create a dire situation for the future of the planet. The biggest issues currently affecting earth’s waters include:
- Oil/chemical spills
- Garbage dumping
- Industrial and agricultural runoff
- Airborne pollutants
- Sulfur dioxide and mercury from coal burning plants
- Pesticide and fertilizer runoff
- Illegal fishing
- Climate change (warming and acidification)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
One of the most common pollutants in our oceans is plastic. The United States alone produces fifteen billion pounds of plastic every year, only one billion of which is recycled.[ii]
There is an area of the Pacific Ocean where garbage, primarily plastics, collects; it’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. This patch is a collection of marine debris that spans the waters from the U.S. western coast all the way to Japan. Most of the debris is plastic because plastic is not biodegradable and is found in most consumer and industrial products.
Once it’s out in the ocean, plastic gets broken down by the sun and becomes ‘microplastics’ – particles of which are so small that they can’t be seen with the naked eye. All of this plastic and other debris is moved by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a circular motion of four currents, and deposited into a convergence zone where warm waters meet cooler waters. Since the center of the gyre is mostly calm, the debris ends up in the middle and stays there. The pollutants are devastating to marine life.
About 750,000 pieces of debris have been picked up in one square kilometer by scientists examining the Patch. No nation will take responsibility or provide funding for clean up efforts since the vortex is so far off the coast, and no single nation could feasibly fund a cleanup project of this magnitude.
(Source: n.p. National Geographic Society. Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 2016. Web. 25 Oct. 2016)
What Government is doing to Protect the Oceans
There are a number of ways that government works to protect oceans and other bodies of water from further harm. Typically, these services are contracted out to third party vendors who have the expertise and knowledge to implement specialized solutions. Some examples include:
- Fisheries management
- Conservation and restoration of coastal lands and ocean habitats, wetlands, tidal marshes, sea grasses and other areas.
- Scientific research on species, plant life and reefs
- Environment data collection and testing
- Clean up of oil and chemical spills
- Waste treatment and trash collection
In 2014 the U.S. Department of State hosted the first Our Ocean Conference, where individuals, practitioners, advocates, International ocean and foreign policy communities as well as lawmakers and industry experts from ninety countries came together to discuss the growing concern of sustainability as it pertains to oceans. Globally, many countries have decided to take action by implementing new policies and initiating projects that will help clean up the ocean and protect it from further pollution. Some countries developed new waste management projects including the construction of new treatment plants or the re-design of plastic packaging using only sustainable materials. Over the last three years the actions taken as a result of the conference has led to the protection of roughly 9.9 million square kilometers of ocean (13.8 square miles, roughly the size of the United States) and generated funding of more than $9.2 billion to support ocean sustainability programs. The 2016 conference also resulted in a commitment of 136 new initiatives and $5.24 billion of investments to protect another 4 million square kilometers of ocean area.[iii]
Through the collaboration of private companies, non-profits and government agencies, protecting the oceans from further damage is possible – and as a vendor, you can help ensure that important steps towards sustainability are taken.
Danielle Calamaras | BidNet.com
[i] N.p. Protecting Our Oceans. Greenpeace.org. n.d. web. 11 Oct. 2016
[ii] N.p. Preventing Ocean Pollution. Greenpeace.org. n.d. web. 11 Oct. 2016
[iii] N.p. Our Ocean. 2016 Commitments. n.d. web. 11 Oct. 2016