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BFO 5: In polluting our oceans, we are killing ourselves: Featuring Amy Brese

Suppose Sue violently prods Tim’s arm with a stick. Having caused Tim pain, we might reasonably expect him to say something like “OW!”. But then, imagine that Sue is surprised by Tim’s cries of pain and says “Why are you crying, I prodded your arm, not you”. It would be clear that Sue has misunderstood something very basic and rudimentary about the human body and how it connected – one’s arm is a part of them. So, when you hurt someone’s arm, you hurt them.

The progression of the ocean crisis has shown that we seem to be in a similar state of informational failure as Sue. We know that the arm and the body are inextricably linked, but our actions suggest that we do not know that we as humans are inextricably connected to the oceans – in vitality, in well-being, and in health. Unlike the arm and the body, the relationship between ourselves and the ocean is not so transparent. Nonetheless, it is far from opaque…

Amongst many other things, healthy oceans supply us with a) food and water and b) a habitable climate. Eight percent of all animal protein consumed by humans are wild ocean fish. Wild fish are high in nutritional value and fisheries are low in greenhouse gas production compared to its land-based protein counterparts. Not only do healthy oceans directly supply us with fish, it indirectly supplies all other types of food through regulating the right climate that crops need to grow. When the sun heats the oceans, water vapour is formed. As it builds up, it forms clouds all around the globe which eventually releases water back into the ground which enable the growth of crops such as wheat, rice, bananas and other staples that we need to survive.

Yet oceans do more than just watering crops and nurturing healthy food – they make the earth a habitable home for us. Without this 70% of the earth’s surface absorbing heat from the sun, the earth would be too hot to be habitable. The oceans function as heat distributors; they carry warm water in currents around the globe allowing environments to reach the optimum temperature needed to thrive. What’s more, 70% of all oxygen we need to breathe is produced by marine plants.

It’s clear that we have, quite literally, oceans to thank our lives for. Healthy oceans mean healthy bodies, minds, and emotions. Yet instead of our gratitude manifesting as better care for it, we have been polluting the oceans with plastic which has and is directly destroying the health of the oceans, and thus the health of ourselves. Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans. These plastic bottles, bags and packaging do not just float around the oceans out of harm's way, they entangle themselves around the necks and fins of marine species, causing them to suffocate and die. And for the decreasingly few wildlife that aren’t entangled with plastic, they often mistake it for food. As many as 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption contain plastic.

There is no question then that the damage we do to the oceans come back round to damage ourselves. We, on average, consume as much as 5 grams of microplastic a week – the weight of credit card. Furthermore, the chemicals that produce plastic have a scientifically supported link to some cancers showing that we are directly hurting and killing ourselves when we hurt the oceans. Beyond our physical health and wellbeing, oceans for many cultures and communities around the world play an indispensable role in preserving and enriching mental health. Oceans are a source of refuge, inspiration and learning for people everywhere and we stand to lose something equally as valuable as our physical health if we do not take more seriously the ocean pollution problem that we have created. It’s more than time for us to stop violently prodding ourselves in the arm and time for us to educate ourselves about plastic alternatives to save the health and wellbeing our oceans and ourselves.