The Earth is our Blue Planet: the oceans are its namesake. But it is precisely this beautiful, seemingly endless blue that is in danger from excessive marine pollution. Every minute, a complete garbage truck full of plastic ends up in the sea. This has currently added up to about 90 million tons - an unimaginable mass. And every year, about 10 million tons are added on top of that. Just plastic. And then there's other garbage made of other materials. If you add it all up, you get almost 150 million tons of trash in the ocean. So we have to act immediately and take effective measures against marine pollution! This is especially close to our hearts, as surfers.
Pollution of the seas: causes
Now we've jumped right into the topic of ocean pollution with plastic. This is also obvious, since plastic is responsible for a good 75 percent of marine pollution. But there are - unfortunately - other materials and substances that pollute the oceans and contribute to marine pollution. All this garbage has now even developed into floating garbage islands. There are currently five of them worldwide, one of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is as large as Germany, Spain and France combined. Unbelievable, isn't it? But it gets worse: It's estimated that 70 percent of marine debris actually sits on the ocean floor. We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to marine pollution - and it's already terrible. But we cannot despair in the face of these figures; we must take action. To do this, we would first like to highlight all the different types of marine pollution in detail, so that we can then point to solutions.
Marine pollution: plastic is the sad leader
When we talk about plastic pollution in the oceans, we often hear about the time it takes to degrade various plastic objects. About 500 years for a plastic bottle, about 200 years for plastic packaging. Unfortunately, these figures are confusing, because: Plastic NEVER degrades. It merely decomposes into fragments that become smaller and smaller over time (microplastics / nanoplastics). And this is what makes things really bad. Because in this process numerous chemicals are released, which now contaminate the sea. Bisphenol A, phthalates (plasticizers) or flame retardants thus enter the food chain, thereby influencing hormones and the genetic material of marine animals and ultimately also our organism. After all, we regularly eat fish from these oceans.
From plastic bags to microplastics
And while we're on the subject of food intake: Animals eat the plastic floating around in the oceans. While they get tangled up in the large pieces, such as plastic bags, and die, they ingest the tiny pieces just described as food. Either they swallow them or the plastic clogs their stomach and digestive tract. The result: the animals die in agony, virtually starving to death with their stomachs full. According to experts, this affects more than one million seabirds, over 100,000 marine mammals and countless fish every year. Unfortunately, microplastics are not only created when large pieces of plastic are fragmented, but also hide in many everyday items:
- Abrasion from car tires
- Washing of plastic textiles (synthetic microfibers)
- Cosmetic products
- detergents, cleaning agents
- Abrasion from asphalt
- Abrasion of sports and playground surfaces
- Abrasion from shoe soles
- And even trapped in Arctic ice are microplastics that will soon add to ocean pollution due to rapid melting.
Marine pollution from fishing nets
It may sound negligible at first, but it is an increasing problem in terms of marine pollution. In the Baltic Sea alone, up to 10,000 nets or pieces of nets are lost every year. Partly this happens unintentionally, but partly fishermen simply throw their broken nets into the sea instead of disposing of them. These nets float around uncontrolled in the sea... and just keep on fishing. Marine mammals do not get tangled in them and drown. And additional trash accumulates on them.
Oil pollution in the ocean is also increasing
Let's move from plastic to another huge cause of marine pollution: oil. The biggest environmental disasters happened because of oil pollution in the oceans - be it from accidents in offshore oil drilling or oil transportation, or from crashed ships or oil waste intentionally dumped into the sea. Many of us surely remember the accident on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. More than a decade after this catastrophe, no pollution can be seen on the surface. But at depth, the seabed is still contaminated. This marine pollution is invisible to us, as is the next one: chemicals.
Chemicals - the invisible trash in the sea
Fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals form a veritable cocktail of poisons in the sea. Well over 100,000 chemicals have already been detected in the sea or in its inhabitants. The problem is that, like plastic, many of these pollutants cannot be broken down. They remain in the sea for ever and ever, gradually accumulating to ever higher concentrations. The pesticide DDT or the flame retardant PCB are good examples of this. In addition, there are heavy metals that also cannot be degraded. They affect the immune system, reproduction and thus the general health of marine life. Whales, which are at the bottom of the food chain, are particularly affected by this marine pollution. Their meat often contains extremely high levels of toxins.
But how do these chemicals get into the sea in the first place?
For example, through the surface runoff of fertilizers. These are washed from fields into rivers and thus enter the sea. There, they trigger algae blooms, reducing the oxygen bound in the water. Many sea creatures suffocate as a result. This example shows that there are many interrelationships in the marine ecosystem, some of which we do not yet know in detail. If a component breaks down, it triggers a whole series of unforeseeable chain reactions. This even leads to the creation of large dead zones in the sea. Life is no longer possible there due to the pollution of the sea. This affects parts of the Gulf of Mexico, for example, but also parts of the Baltic Sea. In addition, chemicals are also repeatedly accidentally released into the sea, whether during their production, use or disposal via the water cycle.
Marine pollution due to increasing noise levels
One aspect of marine pollution is rarely mentioned, but it is on the rise: noise pollution. More and more huge ships and submarines are crossing the world's oceans, emitting loud noises. This may sound banal now, but anyone who has ever lived near an airport knows the stress caused by noise. Many invertebrates suffer cell damage as a result and become fewer and fewer as a result. However, they are an important source of food for other marine life, which ultimately upsets the entire ecosystem. We had already noted this point of marine pollution, but in this case, a reiteration really needs to be made: even a small particle can trigger major consequences of marine pollution by its disappearance in the ecosystem.
Marine pollution: solutions
Now we have identified the main causes of marine pollution and have shown consequences to marine pollution. Then we can now move on to the various solutions to curb marine pollution. Of course, this involves a triad of waste disposal, waste avoidance and protection of the world's oceans. Unfortunately, as a private person you cannot influence many of these measures. But you can do more than you might think, because each and every one of us can do our part to prevent marine pollution.
Create protected areas & tighten laws
The additional pollution of the world's oceans can be prevented or contained by appropriate protective measures. Such projects against marine pollution already exist worldwide. You might think they are just a drop in the bucket. But let's rather think positively and see them as a glimmer of hope or the start of a new way of thinking. One such marine conservation project is the Tun Mustapha Park off the coast of Malaysia. Here, the approach is to sustainably manage a large area with the involvement of all inhabitants. More than 80,000 people live there and catch 100 tons of fish every day - but under sustainable conditions. Those responsible in Mozambique are taking a similar approach. There, no-catch zones ensure that fish stocks can recover. With this concept, the fishermen can even catch more and larger fish in the medium and long term. Of course, it is not only nature conservation organizations that are important for such projects against marine pollution; politicians must also play their part. Laws against marine pollution, for example to dispose of waste and chemicals, to ban oil drilling, but also to create protected zones, must be implemented by the respective government and also supported by local companies.
Collect, collect and collect again
The trash that is already floating around has to go, that's for sure. Everyone can do their part. You're walking along the beach on vacation and discover a plastic bag? Take it with you and dispose of it properly. Of course, this can also be done on a large scale. There are already many organizations that specialize in collecting trash in the ocean or on beaches to help prevent marine pollution. You've probably heard of the work done by The Ocean Cleanup or OceanMata. Here the garbage is collected and disposed of by the kilo or even by the ton. As surfers, we are particularly enthusiastic about this commitment and have therefore been working together with OceanMata against ocean pollution for some time now. For every Balance Board we sell, we support OceanMata in collecting at least 1 kilogram of plastic from the ocean. In this way, we have already been able to detect over 6,000 kilograms of plastic. This is our small contribution to fight against ocean pollution.
And the most important point: Avoid plastic
Of course, it's even more effective than collecting trash to prevent it from being created in the first place. The great thing about this is that you can become active here, your actions are called for here! "Think global, act local" may be a hackneyed motto by now, but it's still important - especially when it comes to marine pollution. That's why we ask you to buy products that are free of harmful substances, durable and easy to repair. Especially with clothing and cosmetics (keyword microplastic) you have the choice with every purchase and thus decide as a consumer how much plastic is used for production. And with other products, too, it's relatively easy to make sure that the product and packaging are plastic-free. By the way, we also like to set a good example in this respect: Both the wahu packaging and our Balance Boards are plastic-free.