Josh Keller is the President of Scubi Jew at Eckerd College. He wrote this piece during his summer internship at Clean Ocean Action on the New Jersey Shore.
What do you love about the ocean? Is it the waves? Is it the fish, whales, or dolphins? Perhaps you love the salty sea air or the warm sand between your toes at the beach. Nationally, counties along the shore constitute less than 10 percent of the total land area (not including Alaska), yet are home to over 39% of the population (NOAA 2017). Even more visit the shore throughout the year, with 95 million visiting New Jersey alone in 2015 (Wieland 2016). While you’re visiting, however, it’s important to keep in mind your impact, especially your plastic impact.
Plastic is forever.
Every single molecule of plastic we have ever made is still in existence today, and by 2050, it is predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the amount of fish (World Economic Forum 2016). These plastics leach toxic chemicals as they are photodegraded by the sun and break down. Animals can ingest plastics, as a lot of plastics look like natural foods. Straws look like reeds, plastic shopping bags look like jellyfish or seaweed. Microplastics are most dangerous, as they are introduced through the food chain. Starting at the lowest level, phytoplankton aggregates’ speeds of sinking can be affected by these microplastics when they are incorporated into these groups (Long et al. 2015). Filter feeders eating these aggregate groups can get microplastics lodged in their digestive tracks or get caught in gills or siphons (Watts et al. 2014). One small fish can eat a bunch of these filter feeders, and then many of those small fish get eaten by one bigger fish. The food pyramid keeps growing until the bioaccumulation has wrought massive amounts of plastic to the top of the pyramid, us. That is if these organisms even survive that long. Whales have been found dead or barely living due to giant entanglements of plastics found in their intestines and stomach. These plastics make the animal think that they are full and don’t need to eat anymore. Many of these plastics are types that we commonly use every day. We are the source of this pollution and we can be the solution.
Despite all of this, we still keep creating and using more and more plastics. You personally may not think you’re the problem, but you may be unwittingly. Large corporations have you in mind when they are packaging their foods or goods and producing single-use products. You, as a consumer, have the opportunity and a responsibility to alter your habits and show big corporations that you do not support the harming of our planet for unnecessary commodities and packaging. Consider your plastic consumption. For example, the plastic stirrer you use for less than 15 seconds in your coffee lasts forever in the ocean or a landfill.
So what can you do?
Reduce or eliminate your use of plastic, especial single use plastics! One easy way is to enjoy a “strawless summer at the shore”. Refuse to use a straw when you get a drink at a restaurant. Did you really need it anyway? If you use it once before you throw it away, is it really worth forever in the ocean or wherever it may end up? Here are a few more ways to make a difference:
Use paper bags or bring your own to the supermarket.
Recycle the plastics that you do use.
Try not to use anything that is single use like plastic cups or cutlery. Always avoid Styrofoam!
Bring your own “to go” container to restaurants or ask for tinfoil instead of using their Styrofoam clamshells.
Are you coming to the beach for a day of fun in the sun?
Don’t leave trash there. Keep the shores clean. As the saying goes, "leave only footprints in the sand." Even if it isn’t yours, when you’re leaving the beach, look around. Pick up some plastic pieces, caps, or straws, b
ecause unfortunately you’ll find some. Your actions could inspire others to also make a difference!
Image Used: http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/