By Naomi Hallum
Photo Credit: Save Our Seas Ltd./ Tom Campbell/Marine Photobank
We already know that, for animals, plastic is turning the ocean into a minefield. Distressing images of birds wearing plastic bags, turtles tangled -up in discarded nets, seals strangled by plastic straps, and starved whales with bellies full of plastic containers are making us rethink what we do with that plastic straw.
But is ditching straws and other single-use plastics, or ensuring that we recycle plastics rather than just throwing just them away, going to make all the difference?
Scientists have identified that around 12 million metric tons of plastic is entering our oceans every year, which is a garbage truck full every minute. Thanks to large corporations that continue to churn out throwaway plastic bottles, cups, and straws, the cycle is relentless, and as far away as we try to toss a piece of plastic —– whether it’s into a recycling bin or not —– it does not disappear. More often than not, it still ends up polluting our communities, oceans or waterways in some form.
The truth is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess, but we can demand a new era that prioritizes people, animals and planet over profit and convenience.
Are single-use plastics entirely to blame?
Single-use plastics —–- like lunch cartons and plastic food wraps —–- are a big part of the problem but they’re not the whole problem.
Ocean plastic research is a relatively new field, with the first comprehensive count of ocean plastic published in Science just three years ago. Until recently, most research into ocean plastic sources came from beach clean-ups and, as a result, the most common objects found were items that humans use near beaches, like cigarettes, straws, and cups. But last year, after measuring the trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), researchers published a report revealing that the largest source of plastic pollution in our oceans is actually fishing equipment.
Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm, at least 46% of which was comprised of discarded fishing nets either lost at sea by accident or dumped illegally. But no matter how it ended up there, the devastation that fishing causes to our marine ecosystems is a principal reason why caring about our oceans, the creatures that swim within them and the birds that fly above them, means refusing to buy or consume fish or seafood.
Killer Ghost Nets:
More than 650,000 marine animals, including dolphins, whales, seals and turtles, are killed or injured in fishing nets each year.
In many cases, animals get caught and die in nets that are being actively used by fishermen. For instance, thousands of dolphins are accidentally captured as bycatch in trawling nets off the coast of France every year — most, if not all, of these dolphins die, and the fishermen simply toss their bodies overboard.
Yet lost, discarded and abandoned fishing nets — referred to as “ghost nets” — cause just as much damage, killing hundreds upon thousands of marine animals.
Approximately 640,000 tons of fishing gear is discarded in our oceans every year, and while illegal fishermen may deliberately dump their nets into the ocean to avoid getting caught, most fishing vessels operating legally simply lose their gear due to poor weather, or because their nets collide with boat propellers, rocks or other fishing vessels.
Once lost or discarded, sections of fishing net and other fishing equipment can drift through the ocean or be left snagged on wrecks, rocks and reefs indiscriminately killing marine wildlife for decades.
To understand how big this problem is, let’s look at just one example —- the UK —- where it is estimated there are tens of thousands of sections of fishing nets floating around, posing a serious hazard to wildlife around the coast.
Be Part of the Solution:
We need more proactiveness from organizations like Sea Shepherd, as well as from individuals, like you and me. We need corporations to stop making plastic bags, bottles, cups, food containers and utensils, we need to stop using microplastics in industrial processes and consumer products, we need industrial fishing to cease, and we need to stop supporting everything that contributes to our plastic pollution crisis to the best of our ability and with immediate effect.
As Sea Shepherd founder and Million Dollar Vegan supporter Captain Paul Watson said:
“A fish is more valuable swimming in the sea maintaining the integrity of oceanic ecosystems than it is on anyone’s plate”.
And he’s absolutely right.
Please take care of our oceans by leaving fish off your plate and downloading our Vegan Starter Kit today.
Naomi Hallum is the US Campaign Manager for Million Dollar Vegan. Naomi is a marketing and events specialist with a background in plant-based nutrition. She became vegan after watching the documentary Cowspiracy, and organized Virginia’s first medically-accredited plant-based health conference in 2018.