Saving our oceans: How We Can All Help
It is common knowledge that oceans are indispensable to all forms of life on Earth and that at the same time, their balance and general state are degrading year after year. From the 1970s and on, marine conservation has become an international concern. Many governments, NGOs, and international institutions have taken action in an attempt to slow down our oceans’ harming, but in truth, all of us can contribute as well, though some of the ways I’ve listed below.
Examples of actions by NGOs or governments
Marine conservation has been at the heart of the UN’s concerns for quite some time now. NGOs such as the WWF or Green Peace are becoming increasingly prominent in the global debate around ocean conservation. In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to develop a legal treaty for the conservation of marine life beyond national territorial waters, working in partnership with the WWF.
Moreover, the WWF itself continues to work with governments and local communities to identify and manage areas in urgent need of protection, with fishermen and business sectors to implement best practices and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources.
Government-led strategies for marine conservation differ. Many set up protected areas like MPAs or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include developing sustainable fisheries and restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means, setting up fishing quotas like those set up by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, or generally educating people about the dangers of excessive waste and carbon emissions. New technologies are constantly emerging to further facilitate marine conservation.
Saving and Protecting the Oceans: How can the average Joe help?
Ideally, the biggest impacts can come from initiatives that are large NGO or government-driven, or from donations or scientific research. However, not everyone can afford to donate to organizations and not everyone is well-versed enough in sciences, politics, and economy. Here are ways that all of us, Gen-Z included, can contribute to ocean protection:
Everyday actions and habits
- Reduce your carbon footprint and energy use: In the last half-century, the ocean has absorbed 90% of the excess heat from burning fossil fuels. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, avoid using air conditioning or radiator, unplug unused electronics, walk or ride your bike to school or work if you can… The ways that you can contribute to reducing carbon emissions are numerous and simple.
- Decrease your use of plastic: Plastic debris in the ocean degrades marine habitats and endangers many species. We have all heard about the tens of thousands of deaths caused each year when marine animals confuse plastic with food. Yet, 8 million tons of plastic are still dumped into the ocean on a yearly basis, and less than 14% of plastic is recycled. Help prevent this by using reusable grocery bags or water bottles, recycle, purchase clothing or toys second-hand, avoid plastic bags, take-out or straws. These ways to reduce plastic use are not only more eco-friendly, most are also wallet-friendly.
- Support sustainable fishing: Overfishing is one of the greatest threats that our oceans face: according to the FAO, three quarters of fisheries are overexploited, fully exploited or recovering from overexploitation. Help conserving marine biodiversity and fish stocks by choosing sustainable seafood. Look for sustainable labels. Look for words like “line caught”, “diver caught”, “sustainably caught” or “sustainably harvested”.
- Avoid items that damage marine life: Certain products, especially those that are sold as souvenirs in touristy areas, contribute to the harming of marine elements like coral reefs. Refrain from buying items like coral jewelry, tortoise shell accessories, or products like cosmetics containing shark squalene. Moreover, avoid harmful cleaning products that often contain dangerous chemicals for the ocean. Use eco-friendly products such as white vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice. Switching to natural products is a lot better for your own health too.
- Inform yourself and others: Share ways to prevent ocean pollution on social media, or follow classes and read about the ocean. The more we understand it and are aware of the urgency of saving the ocean, the better we can become at figuring out better ways to protect it.
Taking your actions a step upwards
- Pick up garbage and litter on beaches: This one is still really simple, and it should become a habit to pick up the trash left behind on beaches. Some communities organize beach cleanups: volunteer at one, or if your town doesn’t have this kind of initiative, you can organize a clean-up yourself by informing and gathering a few people.
- Use your job or position to encourage change: You don’t have to be a marine biologist or politician to influence change and research: the areas of geology, fishing, cinema, music, aquatic sports, tourism, the sewage industry, cosmetics, fashion and more are either closely linked to marine life or can help spread awareness about the dangers it faces. Suggest more sustainable methods or begin undertaking them yourself in your field of expertise.
- Finance initiatives: Donate to NGOs like the WWF or local organizations if you can afford it. If not, volunteer to take part in some of their campaigns. Taking action is always more efficient when done in larger, more influential groups.
- Take part in challenges such as the #SaveOurOceans social media campaign (a notable initiative that drew social media and NGOs together in the form of a TikTok contest: for every video uploaded under the challenge, TikTok donated $2 towards protecting oceans and marine life.)
- Help promote changes in your community: Contact representatives to urge them to take action, support local conservation projects, and inform yourself on the ocean policies of public officials before you vote for them, support taxes or bans against items like plastic bags, or put pressure on restaurants, corporate firms or manufacturers that endanger marine species with their practices.
In the end, it is easy to tell ourselves that our only action is not going to be enough to make an impact. But a person is more than enough to influence many, as proven by the stories of Gloria Fluxa Thienemann, Greta Thunberg, or Pawan Patil. Moreover, people worldwide are slowly becoming more aware of the importance of sustainable practices, and beginning to shift towards more eco-friendly lifestyles. The more people decide to take action, the more efficient it will be, and the sooner results will be seen. Maybe your efforts alone are not enough to impact the entire ocean, but if you begin to act, you will slowly influence those around you to do the same, until your joint efforts become really visible.