(COVINGTON, La.) — Have you been recycling? If not, let’s have a little chat about the importance of the ocean and the fish that inhabit it. With fishing contributing 1.5 trillion dollars to the economy each year, millions depend upon it for their livelihood, specifically in impoverished countries with little other employment opportunities. In fact, 10 percent of the world’s population rely on fish for their livelihoods, with 4.3 billion people depending on fish for 15 percent of their diet. Indeed, the ocean’s bounties are indispensable to the world at large, but there is one problem: if we do not take action, seafood may not be around for much longer.
A study released in 2006 predicts that by 2048, the majority of fisheries will have collapsed and seafood rendered incredibly scarce. Unfortunately, overfishing has only sped up. China, for example, loves depleting crucial resources necessary for human survival en masse more than anyone. With an ever growing economy and population, fishing has never been more crucial to the country, with yearly growth rates at 14 percent annually. However, with 30 percent of Chinese fisheries collapsed and 20 percent overfished, they have turned to other means of acquiring fish. China has dispensed ships across the globe with the largest fishing fleet in the world of 3400 vessels. In fact, China is the largest Fisher in the world, with much of their product coming from the African coastline (specifically West Africa).
If we do not constrain the ever-expanding number of ships, the devastating effects of overfishing will soon become irreversible- the possible collapse of an entire food source and trillion dollar industry.
Overfishing is not, however, the only threat to our oceans; plastic pollution endangers ocean biodiversity and human health, increasing and festering with each passing day. Plastics from waste, both industrial and domestic, enter the ocean and disrupt crucial ecosystems. These plastics are swallowed by fish, turtles, and seabirds (animals necessary to maintain the ecosystem) poisoning and killing them. This process disrupts the local food chain and endangers ocean biodiversity, leading to the collapse of fisheries crucial to markets worldwide.
While the health effects of plastic-rich seafood are currently unknown, it wouldn’t be too reactionary to say that they probably aren’t part of a balanced breakfast. Plastic continues to plague the ocean relentlessly, with one example being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area on the Pacific Ocean collectively twice the size of Texas that grows larger each year. In fact, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the entire ocean. Currently, there are 165 million tons of plastic in the ocean, 25 times heavier than the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Of course, the garbage is not heavily concentrated in the outer regions of the patch like it is closer to the center, but, in the outskirts of the patch, harmful microplastics -pieces of larger plastic that have broken down over decades- endanger ecosystems and pollute waters. We cannot afford to put cleanup efforts on the shelf. The more we ignore cleanup the more time large plastics have to break down into harder to gather microplastics. These tricky microplastics are why cleanup must commence as soon as possible if we are to ensure the health of not only our ecosystems but ourselves.
Many organizations are determined to fix these issues. The Ocean Cleanup has developed large nets that follow ocean currents and collect plastic. The organization estimates that if they reach full funding and deploy all of their nets, they can clean up 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in only five years.
Another company, Parley, promotes awareness of plastic pollution by collaborating with creators and large organizations on projects ranging from informational videos to shoes. The Adidas Ultraboost Parley, sneakers made in part from recycled ocean plastic, has turned heads, raising awareness for the cause. Organizations like these are crucial to ending plastic pollution and revitalizing our marine ecosystems.
The ocean and its inhabitants are indispensable to human life. As a trillion dollar global industry, fishing feeds billions and provides an income to millions. If we allow these natural fish stocks to be ravaged by voyaging ships and pyramids of plastic, we will suffer the consequences. If we don’t act soon, seafood may become a rare delicacy- something I, for one, don’t want to see in my lifetime.
“Smarticle” is the regular column by Paper Wolf writer and editor Hal Fox, in which he addresses issues from media to politics to whatever he feels like. Fox enjoys long walks on the plastic-covered beaches and torturing himself at speech and debate tournaments in his spare time.