It can be overwhelming to hear about the sheer magnitude of the threats that our oceans are facing. Overfishing, climate change and pollution are all huge problems that individually could cause irreversible damage to ocean ecosystems, and together could mean a total chaotic change in oceans worldwide. When you read facts stating that over 100 000 animals die every year after ingesting plastic, or that 90 percent of large pelagic species have disappeared from the ocean thanks to overfishing, it can be easy to sigh resignedly and think “I’m just one person, what can I do?” One person can make a difference, and it’s easier than you think. Small behavioural changes can have a huge amount of positive impact, especially when it comes to preserving ocean life. We’ve listed some easy things you can do at breakfast, lunch and dinner to benefit the ocean.
Fish are being removed from the oceans faster than stocks can replenish. The sea was once thought of as a never-ending source of food but research has shown that this is not the case. According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society over 85% of the world’s fisheries are now over-fished or fished to full capacity. Seafood provides over one billion people with protein, but there are methods of catching fish that are more sustainable than others, and as consumers there are choices we can make to support the fisheries doing the right thing.
It can be hard to know where your fish has come from, and how it has been caught. Thankfully a few marine organisations have done all the hard work for you, and have come up with some simple ways to ensure you’re only dining on sustainable seafood.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the biggest sustainable seafood eco-certification program in the world. They have a completely transparent process, which means when a product or fishery is certified it’s actually doing what it says it is, no fishy business (I went there, I used a fish pun).
MSC tick all the boxes that a marine not-for-profit should. They raise awareness for these issues, and they create change based on scientific evidence. Rather than ruling out consumption of entire species, MSC focuses on an individual fisheries practices. Fisheries must have sustainable fish stocks, and manage their environmental impacts effectively. As long as a fishery isn’t practicing destructive fishing methods (such as dynamite fishing) or shark finning, they are eligible to apply.
Marine Stewardship Council does not actually certify the fisheries but sets the high standards that need to be met in order to receive certification, and then third parties step in to assess. The enormous amount of work and individual steps that are all part of a fishery gaining certification results in a tiny little blue eco-label being slapped on a product, so all you have to do when you head to the supermarket is look for this label to know you’re choosing sustainable seafood. The certification program is global, and their products are available in retail outlets throughout the world. Find your next sustainable seafood meal by clicking here.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has created a comprehensive guide that lists seafood in three different categories, ‘Best Choices’, ‘Good Alternatives and ones you should ‘Avoid’. It can be confusing, as some listed in the ‘Avoid’ section may be species that MSC certified fisheries offer, however this does not mean MSC’s program is any less credible. For a fishery to receive MSC certification, they must have met the very high standards set and prove they are maintaining healthy fish stocks. While marine organisations may use different methods of providing sustainable seafood information, these methods are just different ways of reaching the same goal. A goal of maintaining a healthy ocean, full of life.
Climate change is a very real threat, and we are seeing effects of it in oceans globally. Greenhouse gases are trapping more and more energy from the sun, and this is contributing to rising sea levels and temperatures in the ocean. Our oceans are becoming more acidic due to an increase in levels of dissolved carbon. You can help reduce the affects of a changing climate from your dining room. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than transport. So, what better excuse to have sustainable seafood for dinner tonight rather than a steak. One day a week, go meat free. When you make small changes, like ditching meat one day a week, you’re reducing your carbon footprint and in turn caring for the future of a divers favourite place – the ocean.
In 1950, we were producing 1.7 million tonnes of plastic annually. Today, that figure has increased to a whopping 300 million tonnes of plastic. And none of it ever. Breaks. Down. Instead, it ends up in the bellies of seabirds and then on your Facebook feed, after a marine organisation you follow uploads a graphic photo of a dead bird that ingested plastic pieces. A huge portion of plastic ends up in the sea, and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals worldwide.
The biggest thing you can do to help reduce the amount of plastic making its way into the ocean, is to prevent it yourself and stop using the stuff. Single-use plastic is by far the worst of all the plastic kinds. It’s used once, tossed away ready to wreck havoc on the ocean ecosystem for the next few hundred years. Buy a re-usable coffee cup and take it to your local cafe rather than using a take-away cup, some coffee shops even offer discounts to people who are making more eco-friendly choices. Ditch straws completely and ask for no straw at the bar, or bring your own glass straw to whip out at Friday night drinks.
Small changes, big impacts. When you learn about the issues affecting the ocean, don’t feel overwhelmed. Feel empowered. As cliche as it sounds, you can create the change you want to see simply by taking a few small steps, starting with what you choose to snack on.
Do you have any great tips for helping to care for the sea? Leave them in the comments below.