The ocean and the great garbage patch: What can we do to alleviate it?

Expo 2020 has a strong theme of sustainability and is a chance for all nations of the world to come together.

26/09/2021 by Gulf Business

Expo 2020 has a strong theme of sustainability and is a chance for all nations of the world to come together and showcase how we can ensure a sustainable future for everyone.

We are historically a seafaring nation. Emiratis have long held a close association, even love, for our ocean, and the flora and fauna within. From being a key location in global maritime trading routes, to our pearl fishing ancestors, the ocean has played a key role in the national psyche.

That’s why I’m saddened to recently read about what has been called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ – and other “garbage patches” which are basically concentrations of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean.

Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the ocean. The biggest lies between California and Hawaii. And the problem isn’t only halting the source of these patches but cleaning them up too.

Seaspiracy, the popular Netflix documentary about the fishing industry – and the damage we are doing to the ocean – got a great deal of press, but also got a few things wrong. For the sake of my own peace of mind, I’ve been looking into the garbage patch, but I am sorry to say it is a real thing, and certainly a real issue.

My research has led me to believe that the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is mostly composed of plastics that float. There are also many types of plastics that don’t float but end up in these vast ocean debris patches.

The name ‘Pacific Garbage Patch’ has led many to believe that this area is a large and continuous patch of easily visible marine debris items such as bottles and other litter – akin to a literal island of trash that should be visible with satellite or aerial photographs.

This is not the case. While higher concentrations of litter items can be found in this area, much of the debris is actually small pieces of floating plastic that are not immediately evident to the naked eye.

Ocean debris is continuously mixed by wind and wave action and widely dispersed both over huge surface areas and throughout the top portion of the water column.

It is possible to sail through ‘garbage patch’ areas in the Pacific and see very little or no debris on the water’s surface. It is also difficult to estimate the size of these “patches,” because the borders and content constantly change with ocean currents and winds.

Regardless of the exact size, mass, and location of the ‘garbage patch’, manmade debris does not belong in our oceans and waterways – and must be addressed.

Apart from long-term impacts on ecosystems, life and health, debris found in any region of the ocean can easily be ingested by marine species causing choking, starvation, and other impairments.

What can be done?

Education (most of the plastic comes from land-based, human activity)
Simply put, in the more privileged parts of the world, remaining ignorant in the age of information is a choice. It’s a widely held belief that great leaders – in politics and business – make time to read, to expand their knowledge, beliefs and horizons. And this plastic garbage patch – however you understand it got there – got there because of human activity. Switching out your toothbrush for a bamboo one might make you feel better, but there are bigger, bolder steps we must all look into – and share our new-found knowledge with our friends and family.

If you feel strongly enough – and we all should – why not get involved in a campaign? You can become an ‘armchair activist’, sharing your thoughts and feelings online, and pay heed to global maritime events and issue-based campaigns such as the ‘Bin for Green Seas’ project, which aims to highlight marine garbage by providing a striking recycling bin with a message at coastal sites.

Volunteering needn’t be a large, complicated, organised thing. Grab your friends and family, head to the beach with gloves and garbage bags – and spend just a few minutes cleaning up a section of beach. Of course, you can get your work colleagues involved and create a team-building event with a message, and good CSR, too.

Technology and innovation are both heavily involved in creating ocean clean-up solutions – from innovative tie-ups between AI and satellites to spot the largest areas of marine trash – to a relatively simple funnel system to gather up the plastics, bring them ashore and recycle them into new closed-cycle products like sunglasses. Given our love of the ocean, and our long, rich history of innovation, it would be good to see some more solutions for ocean clean up emanating from right here in the UAE.

Ultimately, there’s a great, easy way to help stop choking our oceans with plastic. Stop using single use plastics.

Change the way you shop, buy loose produce, stop buying bottled water and think before you buy. We really can all make a difference, right here, right now, and ensure our children and our children’s children enjoy our bountiful oceans as much as we do.

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