How the choices on your dinner plate affect the health of the ocean.

How the choices on your dinner plate affect the health of the ocean.

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.

The oceans’ most unexpected deadly killer.

The oceans’ most unexpected deadly killer.

Our beloved underwater wonderlands are home to a host of unexpected killers. You’re probably wondering if I’m referring to the notoriously misunderstood Great White Shark. Nope.

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Or possibly the pesky Box jellyfish? Guess again.

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What about the master of disguise, the Stone Fish? Nice try.

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These killers are far more damaging than any of these ocean inhabitants could ever be. They are silent, unexpected and congregating by the thousands, and it’s something we make use of almost every day.

Most commonly used for slurping up milkshakes and juices or to suck up a margarita on a Friday night, plastic straws are ending up in our oceans and are having devastating effects on precious marine life.

So why are these household items so bad for the ocean?

For one, straws are usually made from plastic. Plastic never breaks down. As time goes by plastic will separate into smaller and smaller pieces, but never completely biodegrades. These pieces can get so tiny that they are then ingested by marine life. Bigger marine life comes along and gobbles up the prey that has just swallowed a chunk of plastic, and so it makes its way up the food chain. When it comes to plastic, there is no such thing as throwing it ‘away’ and it’s estimated that there are over 8 million tonnes of plastic ending up in the ocean every year.

We use plastic straws a lot. In the USA alone, 500 million straws are used every single day. That’s enough to wrap the entire circumference of the Earth a whopping two and half times! So imagine if we multiplied that for every country in the world. It’s a lot of straws. On top of that, straws are a product we use and dispose of pretty quickly. On average, the time we spend sipping on a drink through a straw is a mere 20 minutes, which is an incredibly quick life cycle for an item that is never going to disappear off the planet.

Along with never biodegrading and filling oceans globally, plastic straws are having direct detrimental effects on endangered wildlife. Recently in Costa Rica, a team of scientists researching sea turtle mating habits discovered a male Olive Ridley sea turtle with a 10 cm long plastic straw wedged up its nostril.

At first the group thought the turtle had a parasitic worm blocking its airway, but then realized it was in fact a plastic straw. Hours away from veterinary help, the skilled scientists removed it themselves and successfully released the turtle back into the ocean. They filmed the whole ten minute long ordeal, and uploaded it on Youtube, where it went viral, reaching more than 5 million views and showing the world first hand exactly what the simple straw can do to fragile ecosystems and wildlife. Whilst incredibly graphic, the video served to act as a reminder of the impact simple plastic items can have on the sea. You can see the full video here, but be warned that it’s not pretty.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. By making a few small changes in everyday life, you can help reduce the amount of plastic straws that are ending up in the ocean. If you’re not too fazed about having a straw in your smoothie simply ask your barista or waiter to hold the straw. Easy peasy! If you’re a sucker for straws don’t despair, there are waste-free ways to sip on your beverages. There are plenty of re-usable straw options and many retailers today sell glass, stainless steel and bamboo straws.

A diver holds the stash of over 100 plastic straws found underwater
A diver holds the stash of over 100 plastic straws found underwater

Ultimately all roads, rivers and hills lead to the sea, so when you see a straw on the ground grab it and chuck it in the bin. A few days after the clip of the sea turtle went viral one scuba diver on the other side of the world, in the coastal city of Manly, Australia did an underwater dive clean up in the local area and found 319 straws on a 20-minute dive. 24 hours later she did another and found 294 in the exact same place! Small actions have big impact when it comes to protecting our underwater playground, and it’s easy for everyone to play their part.

The unfortunate turtle with a straw in its nose was found off Costa Rica. Costa Rica is home to one of the most diverse and spectacular arrays of marine life, and is an absolutely incredible destination to visit. Click the link to find out more about diving with turtles, dolphins and schools of manta rays in Costa Rica.