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The Diminishing Health of Our Oceans

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THE DIMINISHING HEALTH OF OUR OCEANS

Growing up with severe asthma as a child, the doctors repeatedly advised my mother to take me to the sea. The fresh breeze coming from a large body of salt water was a miracle cure to my never ending sleepless nights spent on asthma attacks. At the age of only 5, I have developed a true love for the Black Sea, located in the southern Ukraine. After immigrating to North America, I have conveniently located myself in the university next to the Pacific Ocean and am constantly mesmerised by the beauty of its marine life. Alongside, I also learned the unfortunate reality – the world’s oceans are drowning in rubbish. According to the World Economic Forum (n. d. ), by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish by weight. The diminishing health of our oceans should be a wake-up call for humankind as they affect many aspects of our lives. Figure 2 illustrates some of the benefits the oceans provide us with (“Why should we care”, 2018). To start off, the oceans provide over half of the oxygen in the air we breathe. In addition, by covering 70% of the Earth, the oceans are also responsible for the weather regulation by transporting heat over its surface. The international waters provide for transportation of 76% of the US trade and, therefore, play a key role in global economy. Needless to mention, the oceans not only provide seafood for our consumption but also ingredients for some essential medicine and provide jobs for almost 3 million people.

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The US alone. On the contrary, the international nature of the benefits ultimately translates into the international nature of the problem. A plastic straw from Spain could be found on the beaches of Japan and a fishnet from Vancouver could find its way all the way in India. Zooming in closer to our local waterways, even the rubbish which ends up in the lakes of the Okanagan could easily have an impact on the ocean as there is nobody in the world who does not live on watershed (Handschuh, 2015). The “swirling mass of plastic soup in the Pacific Ocean” referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a sobering way to realize the magnitude of the problem (Dunn, 2009). Figure 2: Why should we care about the ocean? (“Why should we care”, 2018)

Given its borderless nature as well as the magnitude of the impact on our society, there are many factors which cause the health of our ocean to diminish. The number one cause of the problem is the careless disposal of plastic. Annually, about 8 million metric tons of plastic are being dumped into the ocean, in other words, it is one garbage truck per minute (“Fact Sheet”, n. d. ). Studies show marine life of Pacific Ocean discovered with plastic in their system, many of whom pass on due to starvation as their stomachs get clogged with plastic they were not built to digest (Taylor, 2017). Next in the lineup is overfishing (“Top 11 issues”, n. d. ). By capturing ocean life quicker than it can replicate, we are directly harming the marine life. This creates a chain effect since when smaller species disappear, large ones have no one to prey on and soon go distinct as well. Interestingly enough, lost fishing nets account for 46% of all ocean plastic (Minte, 2018). So not only do we overfish, but also litter as a result of commercial fishing.

Last but not least, since the Industrial Revolution the oceanic acidity has increased by 25% due by the natural absorption of carbon dioxide, the levels of which have increased dramatically over the past decade (“Top 11 issues”, n. d. ). Some of the species will eventually be wiped out due to the ocean warming and increasing acidity in the waters which will no longer be able to support life. Nonetheless, the causes continue to pile up given the rapid change in the technological field and overpopulation of the planet. Initiatives from all over the world are becoming more popular due to the United Nation’s recognition of June 8th as the World Oceans Day. This day is celebrated in many different ways from international campaigns, nationwide regulations to small but impactful local initiatives. Some of the largest impacts come from government regulations all around the world on banning plastic. According to Greenpeace, India is the most prominent leader in banning its plastic followed by the US, Tasmania, France, Ethiopia and Morocco (Nicholls, 2016). All of these countries and many others have banned the use of plastic straws, coffee stirrers, shopping bags, cutlery, etc. and replaced them with more sustainable alternatives. Certainly, it is a huge challenge to get everyone on board with this movement as it can become highly Figure 5: Reusable straws (Laura London Fitness, n. d. )

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Costly for all businesses to implement the required changes. However, some companies have taken steps on their own to lead the positive change. For example, recently Starbucks announced their plan to phase out plastic straws from all its worldwide stores by 2020. This decision will prevent the use of more than 1 billion straws every year (Rochman, 2018). Additionally, it is important to mention some of the local initiatives which spark the curiosity in the community and engage everyone to participate in a more sustainable living. I adore grocery stores who encourage their customers to bring their own reusable bags and “punish” whose who do not by changing them additional fee per plastic bag. Next, the recent Vancouver plastic straw ban positioned our city as the first one in Canada to ignite such movement. Consequently, it is always the change in the community which really educates us to become responsible citizens of the world since health for the ocean ultimately results in health for the humankind. Figure 6: 9 Tips for Living with Less Plastic (“9 Tips”, 2017)

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