10 things you can do to save our ocean

Photo: UNDP Maldives.

Our ocean is life. It gives us food to eat, fresh water to drink, and jobs to make a living. It protects us from the worst effects of climate change. But humanity hasn’t been too kind to our ocean. We’ve polluted, exhausted, and in parts destroyed this valuable resource. Today, 40% of our oceans are considered heavily affected by human activity.

We know we need to act now, but what can we, as individuals, do to save our ocean?

1. Stop drinking bottled water.

Photo: UNDP Maldives

Ever bought a plastic water bottle and thrown it away after one use? Every day, millions of people around the world are doing the exact same thing.

Given that the global plastics recycling rate is only about 25 percent, much of our plastic waste ends up in the ocean — and a lot of that is single-use water bottles. It takes at least 450 years for one plastic bottle to degrade, so you can imagine the damage it causes. Think twice when buying plastic bottles. Get a non-disposable, stainless steel bottle and fill up as you go instead!

2. Don’t throw cigarette butts on the street.

Photo: Jack Lawrence

Cigarettes harm humans, but did you know they also harm our ocean? Each year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide. Just like plastic bottles, many of them find their way into our ocean and onto our shores. Cigarette filters are comprised of thousands of chemical ingredients, which can kill marine and freshwater fish. So if you’re a smoker, throw your cigarette butt in a bin, not on the floor.

3. Make better seafood choices.

Photo: UNDP India

While global demand for fish is increasing every year, fisheries around the world are collapsing because of unsustainable fishing practices. When you buy fish, make sure it’s been caught or farmed in an environmentally responsible way. Unsure of what fish to buy? This little helper makes it easier for you.

4. Lower your carbon footprint.

Photo: UNDP

The ocean absorbs over 25% of human carbon dioxide emissions. That results in ‘ocean acidification’ which harms a wide array of marine species. Stopping ocean acidification is the same as fighting climate change: we need to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. On a personal level, that means opting for your bike or public transport instead of your car, reducing your overall energy consumption, using green energy like solar and wind, and making more conscious choices about what you eat and shop. Find more detailed information on how you can calculate and reduce your carbon footprint here.

5. Don’t use disposable plastic cups, cutlery, and straws.

Photo: UNDP Guatemala

Over 50% of sea turtles found dead have ingested some form of marine litter. If we want to save our marine life, we need to rethink our use of plastics. Why use disposable cups, cutlery and straws that harm the environment when you can bring your own and reuse it as many times as you want?

6. Be an informed consumer.

Photo: UNDP India

Microplastics from your toothpaste, body wash, and clothes enter the ocean with wastewater. They’re impossible to recover, because of their small size. It’s estimated that at least 51 trillion microplastic particles are already in our ocean today. This not only puts animals that ingest the tiny particles at risk, but also humans, to whom the plastic gets passed on when eating seafood.

When shopping for personal care products, avoid those containing microbeads. You can do that by looking at the ingredients. If it contains anything like “polypropylene”, “polyethylene”, “polyethylene terephthalate” or “polymethyl methacrylate”, don’t buy it!

7. Organize a beach clean-up.

Photo: UNDP Grenada

You can very likely see ocean pollution first-hand when visiting your closest beach. Pieces of plastics, such as water bottle caps or straws, are often washed onto the shore. How about taking your friends and their friends out on a sunny day and pick up marine debris? Just make sure to dispose of the collected materials in a sustainable manner so that they don’t end up in the ocean for a second time around. Find out how to join a beach clean-up near you, or organize your own here.

8. Avoid buying goods in plastic packages.

Photo: UNDP Peru

By now, you already know how much destruction plastics bring to our ocean. When you skip buying goods from big supermarket chains that are wrapped in plastics and instead buy from local farmers and markets, you can kill two birds with one stone: avoiding plastics use while lowering your own carbon footprint by shopping local. Whenever you have the choice, favor paper and glass containers and packages over plastics!

9. Be a responsible pet owner.

Photo: UNDP Peru

If you own a pet, there’s a good chance you’ve harmed the ocean ecosystem without even knowing. Cat litter, for example, is very harmful to marine life so don’t flush it down the toilet as it will enter the ocean with the wastewater cycle. When buying your pet food, make sure to read the labels to scan for ingredients that are not environmentally responsible. If you own an aquarium avoid buying wild-caught saltwater fish. Never release non-native aquarium fish into the ocean! While it might seem like a great idea to release the fish into freedom, this could cause significant harm to the native marine life.

10. Support an organization that saves marine life.

Photo: UNDP Cuba

All marine life — from sea turtles to corals to seals — is under threat. Ocean acidification, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and overfishing are the major factors reducing our ocean’s biodiversity. If you care about life below water, and if you care about yourself, donate time or money to an organization that will help tackle these important issues. You can find a list of key ocean networks here.

Help us save our ocean! Make these conscious choices in your everyday life and encourage your friends to do so too. Your individual behavior will make a difference. Join the conversation online by using #SaveOurOcean!

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By: Mirja Neumann