Did you know that more than 70% of our oxygen comes from the oceans?
And most of our carbon dioxide? It’s absorbed by the oceans as well, used by tiny plants floating in the water called phytoplankton. This – not the Amazon, or any other land-based forests – this is the planet’s main carbon sink.
These tiny plants collect whopping amount of carbon dioxide – we estimate around 12 gigatonnes of it every year! So it’s a bit of a shock to the system to learn that over the last 60 years, the amount of plankton in the oceans has halved. That means the amount of Carbon Dioxide that can be absorbed by the oceans has decreased significantly, leaving it to wreak havoc in the atmosphere.
The question, of course, is why? Increasing temperatures and an abundance of Carbon Dioxide should be an absolute field day for plankton the world over – we would expect them to flourish under these conditions. But they’re not.
Enter the GOES foundation, an international organisation that works hard to raise awareness for the importance of keeping our oceans clean. They’ve got a pretty convincing argument – micro-plastics and toxic chemicals being dumped in to the oceans, which are crippling for most types of plankton. More horrible stuff in our ocean leads to less plankton. Less plankton leads to more CO2. More CO2 leads to more global warming. And we’re sure you can fill in the blanks from here.
So how does that work exactly? Let’s think about coral.
Take Oxybenzone, for example. Oxybenzone is a chemical commonly found in many different types of sunscreen. Just like many other toxic chemicals, it often gets absorbed and concentrated on tiny plastic particles (micro-fibres from synthetic clothing, micro-beads, that kind of thing). As the plastic absorbs more and more of these types of chemicals, it becomes completely coated and even more toxic. And corals, being none-the-wiser, grab that particle, thinking it’s food. That’s a big problem.
The coral gets inoculated with a huge dose of Oxybenzone, which it is not at all equipped to break down. The reason this chemical is so prevalent in sun blocks is because…well…it’s really good at blocking out sunlight. So it reacts with the coral in exactly the same way the sun block protects you from getting burned. The corals can’t absorb any more sunlight, which quickly leads to a stress reaction, and coral bleaching.
Normally, coral can survive temperatures up to 32 degees celcius. The stressed coral can now be killed by temperatures as low as 28 degrees. That may not seem like a huge difference, but considering that just a 5 degree change in global temperatures is considered enough to totally wipe out human civilisation as we know it, it kind of makes sense.
In Florida, 90% of the coral is dead already, and the situation is similar across the world’s coral reefs.
Unless we stop aquatic pollution, the remaining coral will be dead in 10 years.
Coral reefs are critically important to supporting all aquatic life in our oceans: they are a source of food, they protect land from erosion, and provide nursery space for tiny fish.
The time has come for us to seriously re-think our habits, and how we interact with our oceans. They are the real lungs of our planet, and support the vast majority of life on earth. We hate to say it, but if we continue the way we are, things are looking quite bleak.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however! The fate of the oceans is not yet signed and sealed – and even with small, incremental changes, we as individuals can make a huge contribution towards securing a healthy and sustainable future. Restoring the productivity of plankton and plants in our oceans would mean a total of 24 gigatonnes of CO2 can be absorbed by the oceans each year. Of course, there are other measures to be taken, but this would be a huge step towards a carbon neutral world!
Amazing, where do I sign up!
In case you missed our live-stream with Stephanie Terreni-Brown, the co-founder of GOES, there are three key things that you can do to help restore oceanic health.
- Oxybenzone – oxybenzone is commonly found in sunscreen and any products with an SPF. BUT not all suncreens and cosmetics contain Oxybenzone. Check the labels on the products you buy, and make sure to avoid this at all cost. If you’re wondering what chemicals might be less bad in your sunscreen, take a look at this handy chart GOES made.
- Micro-plastics – micro-beads have been banned in the UK (horray) but you may have some still sitting around in your bathroom. If you do, get rid of them! And as for micro-fibres, the solution is simple: when buying clothes, make sure to priorities items made from natural materials.
- Triclosan – this is commonly found in toothpaste and other cosmetics. Again, now you know, you know! Make sure to avoid products with this ingredient in it, there are plenty of alternatives out there!
And, if you’re looking for something a little extra, there’s something else you can do too. Part of the problem of chemicals in our water systems is down to inadequate treatment facilities. Tertiary treatment facilities treat waste water to remove chemicals, and there is a shocking lack of that in the UK. To implement it requires government investment and intervention. So, write to your MPs, demanding more oversight on this issue. We want cleaner water! We want to help our planet’s health! Only by being active together can we hope to help create a more positive future for our climate and our earth.