It’s not fun to think about, but it’s important to give yourself reminders why it’s so necessary to reduce waste. It’s also important to spread awareness of the issues surrounding our current waste crisis. We’re all starting to become desensitized to pictures of beaches covered in trash or of sea creatures choking on plastics, but these are not the only issues that plastic creates in the oceans. So, in the interests of promoting Zero Waste initiatives, Rust and Fray is going to explore three less known but equally horrible effect of plastic waste getting into our oceans
Discarded fishing equipment making deathtraps
We’ve all heard about the devastation that overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices create, but disturbingly, these terrible fishing practices can continue long after the fisherman goes home with their catch. Improperly disposed of fishing nets, especially nylon ones that can last for hundreds of years, drift around and continue to kill wildlife. Some remain free floating, but we’re finding that others entangle with each other and create gigantic floating deathtraps. Warning, the video footage of them is disturbing. Animals get trapped in the nets, die, and just are left to rot within the netting for years and years. The nets eventually get weighed down by the bodies, but when the bodies decompose enough the nets can float back up and continue their devastation. Fishing nets make for one of the most dangerous forms of waste in the ocean.
How to Help?
Support sustainable fishing practices whenever you can. Especially look for companies with supply chain visibility, so that you know that the fish didn’t come from illegal fishing operations. Also support the organization Ghost Fishing, who work on removing the dangerous fishing gear from the ocean.
Micro plastics create toxic fish
Again, we’ve all seen images of The Great Pacific Garbage patch and images of sea turtles with plastic beer can rings around their neck, but the plastic problem is still deadly even when its too small to see. Microplastics are extremely tiny bits or flakes of plastic that get into the ocean food stream. Marine life, especially ocean foragers such as anchovies, zooplankton, oysters, and certain types of worms, eat these plastics. And of course, since plastic is indigestible there’s always a bigger fish, these plastics keep moving up the foodchain. Too much plastic in the system hurts these animals all on their own, but the other issue is that these microplastics also end up getting toxins stuck to them, possibly poisoning them (and the humans who eat those fish). This is especially problematic considering the massive scale of the microplastics in the ocean, where some people go so far as to call the ocean plastic soup. Keep in mind too that sublethal levels of plastic and toxins are still problematic, causing these marine animals to be sicker, slower, and reproduce less.
How to help
To help, you need to understand where these problems come from. Some come from microbeads, tiny bits of plastic that are used as exfoliants in cosmetics and toothpastes. Some come from microfibers, which are shed when washing clothing made from polyesters. And some come from any plastic product that just breaks down small enough. Thankfully, microbeads are being banned in multiple countries and can be avoided, but for the other two, the only real way to stop them is to simply avoid plastic altogether. Recycling is awesome and we definitely support any recycling initiative, but recycling doesn’t stop the wear and tear of everyday use that causes microplastics. Boycott as much plastic as possible, refuse single use plastics, wear clothing made from natural materials if possible, and just go Zero Waste.
Oxygenless Dead Zones
In the ocean, not all water is the same. In addition to the larger differences that sea life has to adapt to, such as ocean floor life vs coastal life, the ocean also has a complex system of currents, water densities, temperatures, salinity levels, and other such differences that significantly impact the life that lives there. Unfortunately, one of the scarier underwater environments seems to be growing. Dead Zones are areas where there is little to no dissolved oxygen content in the water, which as the name suggests, makes it extremely difficult for marine life to survive in. These dead zones are a naturally occurring phenomenon, so in and of themselves they are not a cause for alarm, but in recent years these dead zones seem to be expanding at an alarming rate. Sometimes these dead zones kill marine life outright, sometimes they force animals to make drastic changes to their migration patterns, cramp themselves in higher oxygen environments, and make them sluggish and sick in the edges of these dead zones where oxygen is depleted but not entirely gone.
Scientists are currently studying why these dead zones are growing so much. One probable cause is, of course, global warming causing shifts in ocean environments. Another is the theory that nutrient dumps from farming runoff are contributing to this problem. Farms that require high amounts of fertilizer means that there are tons of that fertilizer getting into the oceans, and that fertilizer causes algal blooms. These blooms are a problem in and off themselves simply by being toxic and by choking out nearby life, but they also seem to cause dead zones. Basically the high concentration of dead, choked out plant and animal matter creates high concentrations of bacteria that quickly exhaust the area of oxygen.
How can you help?
Support sustainable farming initiates for starters. Environmentally conscious farming usually leads to less fertilizers being needed to grow those plants, and less fertilizers mean less algal blooms and more ocean water. Just keep in mind that your fruits and vegetables are not the only type of “farming” that needs to be done consciously. Any animal food increases the amount of plants that need to be grown, so reducing or eliminating your animal product indirectly reduces the amount of fertilizer needed. Furthermore, cotton is one of the most destructive farmed plants on the planet, so supporting sustainable slow fashion initiatives also helps reduce your fertilizer impact. All of these systems are interconnected, and sustainability needs to work across products.
Now, as we’ve said before, environmental activism doesn’t stop at the products you choose to consume. Other lifestyle choices, personal choices, and movements matter, and we at Rust and Fray encourage you to engage with whatever initiatives you can support. You can almost think of environmental activism as a holistic activity, with your consumer choices being one part of the overall lifestyle. Just remember that every little decision is a part of the larger effort to change the world for the better, especially considering how one decision made for convenience can last a century in our oceans.
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