Will McCallum knows a thing or two about saving the oceans – he wrote the book on it, literally. His 2018 book, How to Give Up Plastic: a guide to changing the world one plastic bottle at a time, has become a key text for those wishing to play their part in ocean preservation. He tells us about the dangers the world faces and what we can do about it.
“The ocean is facing multiple different threats that are coming together in a really scary way. In the last few years, we have seen about a million species face extinction. Species are disappearing at twice the rate in the ocean as they are on land. And this is due to a whole range of things: from climate change to plastic pollution, to overfishing, and mining. And unfortunately, we're at a stage where we have to deal with them all. And we have to deal with them pretty fast. Because about half the planet depends on the ocean for its food, one way or another. And, most importantly, we all depend on it for the air we breathe.
Plastic pollution is a particularly huge problem at the moment. We have seen plastic production rising to unbelievable levels. In the last estimate, nearly 400 million tons of plastic is being produced every single year. And a large chunk of that is ending up in the ocean. So, whether it’s fishing nets or plastic bottles, a lot of it is ending up in waterways and eventually going into the sea. That causes several problems. One is the health of the wildlife. We’ve all seen pictures of turtles, dolphins and the like tangled up in plastic; it has real impacts on marine species. A second thing is infrastructure. It's destroying beaches. We see economies that are dependent on tourism really struggling as a result of having far too much plastic on their beaches.
It is then, incredibly urgent at the moment to address the fact that plastic production is set to quadruple by 2050. If that happens, we have a big problem as no waste system in the world can deal with that quantity of plastic. So, we absolutely have to start driving down the amount of plastic we produce right now. And then we can think about also cleaning up what is in the ocean. You can help personally a little if you go to the beach this summer. Here are some tips:
Choose your sun cream wisely
Chemicals commonly used in sun cream can have damaging effects on coral reefs: causing bleaching, damaging the immune systems of creatures that live there, and stopping algae from growing properly. Reef-safe sun cream avoids those particularly toxic chemicals. By sticking to SPF that only uses zinc oxide or titanium oxide you can avoid damaging coral reefs when you go for a swim.
Bin the butts
Cigarette butts, which are often made using plastic, are amongst the most commonly found single-use plastic items on our beaches and in the ocean. Once butts enter the water, they can break up into microplastics, which are easily eaten by small fish, and in turn eaten by bigger fish, and eventually maybe even ending up on your dinner plate.
The Good Fish Guide
Overfishing is a huge, huge problem. We are fishing at just a ridiculous rate. Up to 100 million sharks are killed every single year in commercial fisheries. We’re seeing fish stocks declining all over the place. And we’re seeing the coastal communities that depend on them struggling to make a living and catch enough food. Over 3 billion people depend on the ocean as their primary source of food.
So, first and foremost, it's essential that everyone who can afford to, reduces the amount of meat and fish that they're eating. Moving to a more plant-based diet is a crucial step to making sure our oceans and forests remain healthy. However, if you are buying fish, use the Marine Conservation Society's 'Good Fish Guide' to find out which fish are the best to eat and which to avoid - and wherever possible, try to buy locally.
SOS – Save Our Sands
Beaches are there for us all to use. And sometimes you have to pay them back a bit: take part in a beach clean. The Marine Conservation Society has a map of all these cleans going on. Oh, and you can always sign a Greenpeace petition too.”