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Cleaning up our Ocean

Updated: Apr 21

Exploring solutions to ocean waste as an Ocean Community intern at the 2024 World Ocean Summit.

Ocean Community attended the 11th Annual World Ocean Summit (WOS) in Lisbon on March 11-13. Having newly entered the world of blue economy as an intern, these days filled me with vast amounts of new knowledge, inspiration and engagement, but also a healthy hint of frustration. While WOS´panels, sessions and showcases widely addressed the blue economy, ocean waste appeared to me as a topic of overarching and pressing importance.

Marine litter is defined as any solid material disposed in marine and costal environments, and poses a great threat to our ocean ecosystem. Some scientists even warn that by 2050, the quantity of waste in the ocean might outweigh fish! Ocean litter comes in all forms, from microplastics to whole abandoned vehicles, and stem from an enormous spectre of human activities. While most actually orginates from land based activities, a significant and dangerous amount also comes from ocean activities such as abandoned and disposed fishing gear. Parts of the waste sinks to the seabed, some is mistaken by animals as food and some end up in clusters such as the great pacific garbage patch.

Negative consequences of ocean litter, such as the harm to and killing of marine species, are obvious, while still undercommunicated. This is despite that it poses a significant existential threat to the ocean ecosystem and habitats. For instance, waste may cause unnatural misbalances of nutrients in the sea, leading to toxic phenomenons like algal bloom, hypoxia or dead zones. Ocean waste also impacts human health through intoxicating seafood, onwhich three billion people, according to the WWF, depend on as their primary protein source.

During the WOS summit, talks, panels and showcases touched upon the topic of waste, pollution and plastics in the ocean, and, of course, what we as individuals, industries and policymakers can do to fight it. As I now see it, there are two main ways of reducing the amount of waste in our oceans: (1) capturing current waste and (2) limiting the amount of waste that end up in the oceans in the first place. While the first can be seen as a "symptom treatment" of the problem, the latter stops the problem at source and includes any adjustments or improvements of current production and consumption systems in an ocean-friendly manner.

During the first day of the summit, WOS teamed up with SeaShepherd in arranging a beach clean up at Alges in Lisbon. As a participant, I found this to be a great initiative to create awareness, make a small impact and offer an ice-breaker to an otherwise suit and talk-filled venue. Beach clean ups are a undoubtey a great way to gather people in a fulfilling activity with tangible results. However, cleaning up beaches is a never-ending project with also the challenge of thousands of tiny micro-plastics that are nearly impossible to pick, and new waste washing in on land every day.

So although initiatives like this are great, it is crucial to address the root-cause and core issues leading to ocean waste. This is why we in Ocean Community keep pushing for innovation and knowledge, in order to find and improve the solutions that benefit our oceans today, and in the future.

When the ocean breathes, we breathe.


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