When we think about the most influential marine species, animals like sharks and whales typically come to mind, but in the past few decades, a new species has emerged as a driving force behind the shifting marine environment: humans. Although we are a terrestrial species, humans have had an enormous impact on the world’s oceans, and our actions have shaped and formed the underwater world that we know today. Unfortunately, this influence is not a positive one.

Between ocean acidification driven by greenhouse gas emissions, overfishing, agricultural runoff, and pollution, we’ve turned the world’s pristine waters into a bit of a glorified dumping ground. As a result, the marine species that we might associate with dominating the oceans are in decline. Not to mention, our ever-growing obsession with plastics is also causing serious damage.

Every year, we dump a total of 8.8 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans, and there are currently 270,000 tons of plastic just floating on the surface alone. This is a serious problem considering plastic never goes away. Unlike organic matter, plastic doesn’t just dissipate and become part of the environment, rather it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Essentially, all the plastic that we’ve put in the oceans will remain there for the rest of … well, forever.

We use plastic nearly every day, and it can be difficult to quantify what the impact of our water bottles and plastic bags actually is.

Consider these two images. The seal on the left is shown swimming through a kelp forest and the one on the right is struggling in a mess of ghost fishing nets and trash. 

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Sadly, the image on the right is the all too common one for marine life. In fact, around 700 marine species are listed as in danger of extinction due to plastic pollution alone. These animals are at risk of being tangled in trash, like the seal on the right, accidentally consuming plastic trash and suffering from digestive complications, or being harmed by the toxins that plastic releases over time. Any way you look at this situation, one thing becomes apparent: plastic does not belong in the oceans.

The impact that our plastic trash is having on marine animals might seem daunting, but we all have the ability to help. Unlike other forms of ocean pollution that we might not directly influence (c.f. industrial runoff), we do control our own plastic waste.

“Plastic is ubiquitous in modern society and seemingly unavoidable. But is it worth risking the lives of marine species, the health of the oceans and our own future in the name of convenience? By taking steps to minimize everyday plastics in our lives, we can crush plastic at the source and give marine life a fighting chance,” says Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet.

As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, One Green Planet believes that reducing everyday plastics from our lives is not about giving up anything or sacrificing convenience, but rather learning to reap the maximum benefit from the items you use every day while having the minimum impact.

It can be as simple as refusing a plastic bag at the grocery store or choosing to use a mason jar for storage over plastic containers. Every bit of plastic adds up, especially considering the fact that it never goes away.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.

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Image source: Kyle McBurnie/Flickr