Oceans Update

What will our legacy be? Image from Local Philosophy.
As the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 continues, one finding is being made over and over: There is a whole lot of garbage floating around in the Earth's oceans.

The swirling ocean currents conspire to aggregate trash that doesn't biodegrade (i.e. plastic) into a giant soupy mass of environmental pain.  Page by Shea Gunther
This isn't exactly news, of course. It was a full 17 years ago that surfer, scientific researcher, and sea captain Charles Moore first "discovered" an enormous stretch of floating plastic debris now called the “Pacific garbage patch.” But in recent weeks, this garbage has offered false hope for friends and family whose loved ones were aboard that flight. And with each dead end, international headlines take root: Our oceans are poisoned by the things we throw away. Marine life and birds end up eating our refuse—it's not at all unusual to dissect a dead gull or sea turtle and discover a belly filled with plastic.

Image from Allianze.
It's this pollution—combined with overfishing, habitat loss, and climate change—that led an international team of ecologists and economists to conclude in a findings reported in the Nov. 3, 2013 issue of Science, that the world's oceans could be devoid of fish as early as 2048. The study was conducted by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama.

So what can we do about it?

On a small scale, we can stop buying so much non-biodegradable, "disposable" junk. Here's a Better Farm challenge for you: Go one week without purchasing anything disposable. Bring mesh bags for produce at the store. Juice your own fruits. Reuse cardboard egg containers at a local farm. Invest in a Zippo instead of a Bic. Compost your cardboard, newspaper, and junk mail. See if you can do it.

On a semi-small scale, keep a few garbage bags in the trunk of your car. When you see trash in a parking lot, on a sidewalk, or in the road (especially at this time of year, when snow is melting to reveal all sorts of treasures and water is washing into creeks, streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans), pick it it up! Contributing to landfills isn't ideal, so obviously recycle what you can. But a designated landfill is still better than polluting waterways and soil.

On a large scale, petition local businesses, restaurants, and friends to take on the challenge of ditching the planned obsolescence of disposable stuff, and opting for reusable or biodegradable items. Cardboard takeout containers alone can make a big difference in harmful, non-biodegradable wastes being produced by local eateries.

Whether humans can act fast enough to prevent irreversible oceanic damage remains to be seen; but at Better Farm, we believe each tiny action spurs infinite ripples. And for each piece of garbage we can keep out of the oceans, we believe there's a turtle, gull, or fish somewhere living a little bit easier.

Got great tips for preventing (and solving) the world's garbage problem? Email us at info@betterfarm.org.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.