Water is life. Without water, planet earth wouldn’t be what it is today. From the highest mountains to the deep blue seas, we are all connected through water. Oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water, representing 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume. But it doesn’t stop there; the ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere, buffering the impacts of global warming.

Due to its magnificence and rich flora and fauna diversity, it is crucial that we, humanity, take care of oceans a little bit better than we have done over the last hundred years. 

Plastic World 

According to Surfers Against Sewage, studies show approximately 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic are in our oceans today, with 46,000 pieces in every square mile of the sea, weighing up to 269,000 tons. Thus, the environmental impact of our love affair with plastic is having a profound, long-lasting effect on our oceanic ecosystems. 

Did you know a plastic bottle can last up to 450 years in the marine environment, slowly fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces? Eventually, these pieces might become smaller pieces known as microplastics. These microplastics are then ingested by marine animals and often end up on your dinner plate, with 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption now containing plastic. 

Thankfully many young scientists and inventors have developed unique, sustainable solutions to the plastic problem. 

One of them is Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, who designed the Ocean Cleanup Array at age 16. The device was created to tackle ocean plastic pollution on a large scale. It implements a network of floating barriers that use the ocean’s currents to collect vast amounts of plastic, which can then be easily extracted and recycled. The design has been the world’s first cleanup system to be trialed and utilized in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Another similar invention was designed by Richard Hardiman, known as Waste Shark. This consists of a small robotic device that ‘swims’ close to the shore catching waste just before it can make its way out to sea. The Waste Shark has a mouth that extends a foot below the water and can catch up to 1,100 pounds of waste before returning to land to be emptied. WasteShark was launched in March 2019 by WWF and Sky at Ilfracombe Harbour in Devon, UK.

Lastly, the Seabin, designed for use in marinas, yacht clubs and harbors, contains an automated garbage bin that catches floating waste, oil, fuel and detergents. Founders Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski created the Seabin to work using the water’s natural currents to draw plastic waste towards it. The Seabin also uses a special pump to clean water from oils or detergents before releasing clean water back into the ocean.

These inventions, although amazing, don’t solve the root of the problem. Humans over-consuming and dumping waste into the oceans. Without planning and conscious consumption, we will soon be overwhelmed by plastic, affecting our oceans and the marine ecosystems as we know them today. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. It is 1.6 million square kilometers, which is an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

Charles Moore, the oceanographer who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has predicted that it will double in size in the next ten years if we don’t change our ways. 

We can still turn this around, but we need to act soon and in more than one way. 

Thinking Caps On

How can we stop the problem from becoming a problem in the first place? Can you
think of any alternative solutions to plastic? Many new studies have devised plastic
alternatives known as Bioplastics.

Bioplastics are made from various natural sources, primarily plant-based, such as corn,
mushroom root and seaweed. How can we make these more commercially available to
the general public? Can you think of a way to advertise/communicate to people in your
community about the existence and usability of bioplastics? Perhaps make a short
movie, a comic strip or a game to educate people around you.

We Can Still Save the Planet

Ocean cleaning devices, paired with commercially available bioplastics and a general conscientious way of living, can still save the oceans. But it needs to start at home; small changes can have a significant impact on the ecosystem. You can also help by: 

  • Not using single-use plastics. That includes plastic bottles, straws, to-go plastic containers and plastic cutlery. Instead, opt for reusable water bottles, reusable metal straws, reusable bamboo, metal or glass containers. 
  • Bring your own cup instead of using to-go coffee or soda plastic cups. 
  • Use reusable tote bags when you go to the supermarket.
  • When buying new products, do some research about the quality of the product and the packaging. Is it recyclable? Is it compostable? Is it plant-based? 

Every little thing you can do can help. Educate others about the impacts of our lifestyles and its at-risk, and together we can save our oceans.