Protecting our Blue Planet
From bobbits and brine pools to sea toads and spider crabs – Blue Planet 2 has opened our eyes to a whole new underwater world, and Sunday evenings just won’t be the same without it.
But the season’s finale showed us the threats that are facing our precious oceans. From noise pollution to a tide of plastic – what exactly is the problem and more importantly, what can we do about it?
The images of plastic pollution on Blue Planet 2 were shocking. A whopping 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year – that’s a truckload every minute. And as we saw on Sunday night’s programme, the effects on our marine life can be heartbreaking. A shocking 90% of seabirds and 1 in 3 turtles have ingested plastic.
But how does plastic end up in our oceans in the first place?
What can be done to stop this tide of plastic?
1. Governments and corporations must take action to reduce the amount of plastic produced in the first place. Companies like Coca-Cola (who produced an estimated 110 billion single-use plastic bottles a year worldwide) need to lead the way in coming up with innovative reusable alternatives to throwaway plastic. Tell Coke to take action on their massive plastic footprint here.
2. Our current waste and recycling systems simply can’t cope with the huge amount of plastic that we’re consuming every day. Whilst the most important step is to reduce the amount of plastic produced, governments can also take action by introducing processes like Deposit Return Schemes. You pay a small deposit when you buy a drink in a plastic bottle, then get this money back when you return it. These schemes have been seen to dramatically increase the amount of plastic that’s returned for collection. Scotland has recently announced its support for Deposit Return Schemes, but the rest of the UK is yet to follow suit. Sign the petition calling for these schemes across the UK.
We saw the tragic consequences of industrial fishing methods designed to catch more and more fish, with magnificent sharks and rays getting tangled and trapped in their giant nets. We also saw local fishing communities working with the scientists and film-makers who made the programme, showing yet again the value of local and traditional knowledge to help conservation. These are the same communities most under threat from a polluted, over-fished ocean and so it is vital that they are involved in helping shape its future.
But there are also parts of the ocean that need the space to recover and to build up resilience to the threats facing them. Ocean sanctuaries, or marine reserves, are areas which are off-limits to industrial fishing and other exploitation, providing a haven for ocean creatures. Scientists recommend that around a third of our ocean should be protected by 2030 to allow ocean life to thrive.
But as Sir David reminded us, 99% of international waters – those big blue expanses that belong to all of us – have no protection measures in place.
While some governments are starting to take action to create ocean sanctuaries in the waters off their coastline, what’s been missing is a global conversation to agree how to protect these shared waters. Thanks to years of campaigning, it looks like that might be about to change, as momentum builds for governments to start negotiating a global oceans treaty next year.
And with some big breakthroughs this month – like the Central Arctic Ocean being placed off-limits to fishing – there’s all the more reason for us to keep calling on our governments to protect our ocean.
As the crew of Blue Planet 2 dived to the depths of the Antarctic Ocean, they were the first humans to reveal what an incredible array of creatures live in the icy waters at the bottom of our planet. But some Antarctic waters are warming faster than anywhere on Earth, disrupting the home and food of whales, penguins and thousands of other creatures.
Healthy oceans can play a key role in helping us tackle climate change. The oceans and sea creatures soak up carbon from the air, and store the excess heat in our atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels. But if we keep creating carbon pollution on land, our oceans won’t be able to cope with the impacts. Blue Planet 2 showed the risks of continuing to burn fossil fuels: once vibrant coral reefs bleaching and left lifeless, the threat of sea level rise, and more acidic waters where it’s harder and harder for marine creatures to grow protective shells. These fundamental changes to our oceans are putting sea life and communities living on the coasts (from small islands to mega-cities) under growing pressure.
But by taking action on land to end the fossil fuel era, and creating ocean sanctuaries at sea, we can help avoid the worst effects of climate change. In January, Greenpeace will be setting sail for the Antarctic, to bear witness to the threats facing this incredible environment and strengthen the case for creating the largest protected area in the world: an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. Back in the 1980s, millions of people around the world managed to convince world leaders to protect Antarctica’s land. Now we’re going back to protect the ocean.
These threats to our oceans present a huge challenge – but if millions of us from around the world come together, we can take a stand to get the changes we need to see from governments and businesses, to protect our blue planet.