Spend any time scuba diving and you’ll, no doubt, have gotten a glimpse into the global dilemma of marine debris. Pollution – particularly of the plastic variety – is the number one threat to the health of our seas and oceans beating out acidification induced by carbon emissions and unsustainable fishing practices. It is estimated that approximately 8 million metric tons of trash enters our oceans every year with no signs of this toxic flow abating (report in Science; 13 Feb 2015).
Scuba Diving: An Eye on Marine Debris
For too long our marine environment and the water systems that feed it have been used as common dumping grounds. Out of sight is out of mind, right? But not for those of us who value the wonderland you experience when scuba diving. The privilege of taking in life underwater drives home the importance of preserving our marine ecosystems. You don’t have to be a scuba diving fan though to appreciate the vital role our seas play in keeping the global environment in balance. The pervasion of marine debris is evident to all who visit our beaches, no matter the time of year.
The extent of the problem was first highlighted by one Captain Charles Moore, head of the Agalita Marine Research Foundation in the 1990s. He was alarmed at the vast expanse of trash he and his crew sailed through on visiting a little-known area between Hawaii and the mainland of North America. This pollution phenomenon was aptly named the “eastern Pacific garbage patch”. It is just one of the many swirling patches of ocean trash.
Unfortunately, this trash does untold damage to marine life. It strangles and suffocates, and the plastic eventually breaks down into micro-particles. This can be just as devastating if taken up by sea birds and filter eaters mistaking it for a food source like plankton or fish eggs. The toxic micro particles have even been discovered to host microbial ecosystems, but scientists are not yet certain what the long-term effects of these microbes are.
As marine debris is far from a new problem, it is not going to be resolved overnight. Effectively addressing this scourge of the seas takes a concerted effort by the community to dispose of all waste in a responsible manner. This includes old and used motor oils, electronic waste, chemicals and expired or unwanted medications, and of course, any plastics that are not able to be recycled. Even toothpaste and exfoliating soaps which contain tiny plastic microbeads can be a problem.
Increasingly you’ll find vendors providing eco-friendly alternatives to dumping your waste in the wrong way or the wrong place, i.e. our oceans. It is also the responsibility of the relevant governing bodies to step up and put the infrastructures in place that encourages the responsible disposal of waste.
Scuba diving enthusiasts can play their part by educating friends and family and by participating in Project Aware’s Dive Against Debris initiative.