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Making Ocean Health a Priority

Making Ocean Health a Priority

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Keeping our Oceans Green

Anyone who lives within sight and sound of the ocean and who is concerned about the care of our environment has to see that our response to environmental pollution must not stop at the shoreline. While good work is being done to protect and clean up our coast and offshore waters, legislation to protect the quality of our fresh water supply often works against this, sacrificing one for the other. The conservation of fresh water supplies to our cities has to be a priority of course, but damaging the health of the ocean as a result is short-sighted. Ignoring the intimate connection between environmental management of our coastal cities, farmland, water flow, and the wildlife on land and in the ocean, can only lead to a worsening situation. The California Coastkeeper Alliance asserts: ‘The health of our coast and ocean is declining, in part because our regulatory structures are mismatched with the environment they are supposed to protect.’ The good news is that national and state political leaders and leaders in the shipping industry have begun to listen, although there is still a way to go before we can say the health of our oceans is not in jeopardy.

Anyone who lives within sight and sound of the ocean and who is concerned about the care of our environment has to see that our response to environmental pollution must not stop at the shoreline. While good work is being done to protect and clean up our coast and offshore waters, legislation to protect the quality of our fresh water supply often works against this, sacrificing one for the other. The conservation of fresh water supplies to our cities has to be a priority of course, but damaging the health of the ocean as a result is short-sighted. Ignoring the intimate connection between environmental management of our coastal cities, farmland, water flow, and the wildlife on land and in the ocean, can only lead to a worsening situation. The California Coastkeeper Alliance asserts: ‘The health of our coast and ocean is declining, in part because our regulatory structures are mismatched with the environment they are supposed to protect.’ The good news is that national and state political leaders and leaders in the shipping industry have begun to listen, although there is still a way to go before we can say the health of our oceans is not in jeopardy.

Protecting ecosystems

The difficulties of managing a complex ecosystem while satisfying the priorities of maintaining the urban water supply is typified by the decades of argument over plans for improvements to the Sacramento water system, resulting in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which is still mired in controversy despite the best of intentions: ‘The BDCP includes 22 conservation measures aimed at improving water operations, protecting water supplies and water quality, and restoring the delta ecosystem within a stable regulatory framework.’ Balancing the needs of cities, farms and fish, and protecting the delicate balance of fresh and salt water in the delta, on which the maintenance of the migratory wild salmon population depends, has been almost insoluble.

Similarly, the conflicting demands we put on our offshore waters has meant that complex management solutions need to be put in place. The setting up of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force by President Obama in 2009 went a long way to establishing a national policy for ocean management. Its 2010 report describes the problems, its goals and how these can be achieved: ‘The challenges we face in the stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes lie not only within the ecosystems themselves, but also in the laws, authorities and governance structures intended to manage our use and conservation of them.’

Sustainable shipping

Work to protect our oceans begins on the land with management of the pollution in our rivers. Although it doesn’t end with pollution control on shipping, without a modern policy for sustainable shipping any attempt to formulate a workable green policy for the ocean is dead in the water. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), a practical plan developed by a coalition of leaders from the world’s shipping industry, outlines a new vision of a sustainable and profitable future: ‘Shipping has a compelling case as the most energy-efficient freight service, but any return to growth will be unsustainable if the industry does not innovate to cut costs and reduce its environmental impacts.’ Besides the challenges posed by oil pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, ships produce thousands of gallons of so-called gray or black water, which needs treatment before it is released into the ocean. However, according to Iglu Cruise, the cruise ship industry is leading the way in reducing this and other forms of pollution: ‘…following thousands, sometimes millions of pounds of investment… on redeveloping onboard water treatment facilities, ships are now able to turn their waste into a product often cleaner than the water that comes out of your tap at home.’

How can we help?

Plastic pollutes every ocean and waterway in the world. On remote, uninhabited Pacific Islands, there are beaches covered in our plastic waste, which we toss away carelessly on our beaches and is washed away by the tide to circle the world on the ocean currents for ever. Plastic that is not biodegradable will never disappear but is ground down into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes an alien constituent of the sand on the world’s beaches. By this time it has already been responsible for the deaths of seabirds, whales and turtles, ingested by fish and other smaller marine life, and so entered the food chain and become a potentially toxic hazard in our diet. Plastic has become an indivisible part of the circle of life and death on this planet.

Project Kaisei, which is dedicated to publicizing the plight of the oceans and reducing the amount of plastic waste, says that our primary challenge is to realize the value in our waste products and to create a cost-effective means of recycling. ‘Governments and companies will need to give incentives, and penalties, in order to shift the goal posts so that people can begin to treat waste materials in new ways.’ However, to quote the Natural Resources Defense Council: ‘The most effective way to stop plastic pollution in our oceans is to make sure it never reaches the water in the first place.’ This is something we can all do. Recycling our litter is easy. It just takes a little care, and if we teach our children not to litter from an early age they will grow up with the habit of recycling without a second thought.

The California Coastal Commission runs a coastal cleanup day in September every year. Since 1985, this event has been attracting thousands of people who take part in what has become the largest regular volunteer garbage collection in the world: ‘It’s a chance for Californians to join people around the world in expressing their respect for our oceans and waterways… for the community to demonstrate its desire for clean water and healthy marine life.’ It’s also a chance for family, friends and neighbors to join together and make a real contribution to the improvement our environment.

-Written for SSMC by freelance writer Melissa Evans

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