Protecting The Marine Environment

Facing three huge threats: overfishing, pollution & climate change

Marine Pollution - Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash
Marine Pollution - Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Did You Know?

  • up to 80% of the oxgen the Earth needs to support life comes from the oceans
  • we put 12 million tonnes of plastics into our oceans every year
  • 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our ocean daily
  • 1000 rivers are causing 80% of the plastic pollution in our seas (The Ocean Cleanup)
  • Over 700 species of marine animals have been reported to have eaten or been entangled in plastic.
  • 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually
  • Approx 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution has been found per mile of beach in the UK
  • The sea level has risen by 98 mm since 1993 (NASA) - that's 3.3 mm per year

Also, according to the Marine Conservation Society:

  • The UK has lost up to 92% of its seagrass in the last century
  • While a third of UK seas are protected on paper less than 1% are well managed
  • Just 5% of the UK’s marine protected areas are safe from bottom trawling.

    The Marine Environment

    The marine environment covers 71 per cent of the Earth's surface providing us with food, oxygen and jobs.  However, the marine environment is facing three huge threats: overfishing, pollution and climate change. Most of these are caused by human mismanagement.  If we don't address these threats the ocean could be drastically changed within our lifetimes.

    Unsustainable Fishing

    According to WWF, two-thirds of the world's fish stocks are either fished at their limit or over fished. The UN food and agriculture organisation (FAO) has estimated that 70 percent of the fish population is fully used, overused or in crisis.

    Global overfishing and other unsustainable fishing practices have depleted nearly all commercial fish populations and degraded the ecosystems that support them. Since the late 1980s global fish catches have actually declined, despite significant increases in fishingeffort and improvements in technology.

    Large areas of seabed in the Mediterranean and North Sea now resemble a desert – the seas have been expunged of fish using increasingly efficient methods such as bottom trawling. These heavily subsidised industrial fleets are now cleaning up tropical oceans too. 

    Shark numbers, for example, have declined by 80% worldwide, with one-third of shark species now at risk of extinction. A decline in shark numbers has a significant impact on the marine ecosystem: it can lead to an increase in fish numbers further down the food chain, which in turn can cause a crash in the population of very small marine life, such as plankton. Without the smallest creatures, the entire system is threatened.

    The Plastic Problem

    Plastic pollution is in the sea and on the beach and it’s causing harm. We’re using more plastic than ever, it’s durable, cheap to produce and we’re consuming it at staggering rates. Current estimates show that at last 8 million pieces of plastic are entering the oceans every single day.

    The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fishes and turtles, mistake waste for prey, and most die of starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.

    Plastic is strong, flexible and durable making it extremely useful, however that also means it never really breaks down. A plastic bottle can last for 450 years in the marine environment, slowly fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces which eventually end up microscopic but never truly go away.

    According to National Geographic, plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.

    What is Plastic Soup

    Plastic Soup is all the plastic waste that is ending up in the oceans.  It comes from plastic that we throw away on the street, in rivers, parks, fishnets that are discarded, from washing synthetic clothing, brushing our teeth, etc. All these different types of plastic combined form the plastic soup in the seas. 

    Weathering, sunlight and wave action break down large pieces into small bits. This causes serious pollution and because plastic is non-biodegradable, the plastic soup kills many marine animals. The plastic is degenerating into ever smaller pieces to the point that we cannot see it anymore. Microplastics are entering our food chain; in the fish we eat and the water we drink.

    Most of the plastic waste comes from land. At least 80% of the plastic rubbish in the oceans is dumped by industry and by people on land. It is carried to the sea by rivers, canals, harbour and the wind.  It is really a huge wordlwide problem and we have to do something


    EndPlasticSoup is a Rotary movement, started in the Netherlands, which is changing the conversation about the marine environment.

    A number of Rotary clubs in Great Britain & Ireland have signed up to become a member club, joining a movement which is supported by 1,500 clubs, and 3,500 Rotarians and Rotaractors globally, with 72 Ambassador Clubs in 47 countries.

    The EndPlasticSoup goal is:

    By 2050 there is no more plastic soup in the oceans, seas, no more plastic waste in our lakes, rivers, forests, parks and streets.

    Acidic Oceans

    Most people are unaware that Oceans produce up to 80% of the oxygen all life on Earth needs to exist. By burning fossil fuels and producing excess CO2 we are turning the oceans acidic, which in turn is killing the plankton which makes the oxygen!

    Phytoplankton are microscopic marine  algae that have chlorophyll, rely on the sun to live, and grow in the upper part of the oceans. They are essential to the food chain of the marine animals. Scientist have agreed that  50-80% of the  oxygen  in the  Earth's atmosphere comes from phytoplankton carrying out photosynthesis.

    When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, the water becomes more  acidic  and the  ocean's  pH (a measure of how  acidic  or basic the  ocean  is) drops.  In the past 200 years alone,  ocean  water has become 30 percent more  acidic —faster than any known change in  ocean  chemistry in the last 50 million years.

    Ocean acidification is already impacting many ocean species, especially organisms like oysters and corals that make hard shells and skeletons by combining calcium and carbonate from seawater. However, as ocean acidification increases there are fewer carbonate ions available for calcifying organisms to build and maintain their shells, skeletons, and other calcium carbonate structures. If the pH gets too low, shells and skeletons can even begin to dissolve.

    What Can Clubs Do?

    1. Join EndPlasticSoup
    2. Join in on the Great British Beach Clean (preferably as a community event with young people) between 17th and 26th September 2021 and log your event with the Marine Conservation Society
    3. See what plastics you can reduce, reuse or recycle
    4. Educate club members on Marine Pollution - invite The Weird Fish Lady to talk to your club
    5. Get schools involved in the Rotary Young Environmentalist Awards
    6. Provide schools with educational materials on Environmental Sustainability
    7. Reduce the carbon footprint of members
    8. Encourage the reduction in single use plastics
    9. Encourage the planting of seagrass on the seabed around the wind farms  - Planting more seagrass around the coast will absorb CO2 - perhaps by organising sponsorship led by Clubs.
    10. Use your social media to advocate the protection of the marine environment on World Oceans Dat (8 June)


    The Weird Fish Lady - talks on protecting the marine environment and resources for schools

    Surfers Against Sewage - dedicated to the protection of oceans, waves, beaches and wildlife

    Kids Against Plastics - taking action against plastic pollution

    Beach Guardian - community beach cleans and conduct educational workshops with school

    (Main photo by Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash)

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