I’ve always been an advocate for the environment, but even more so now I’ve learned how to scuba dive. In my fourth and final week here on Montserrat as a volunteer with Coral Cay Conservation, I’ve been fortunate to take part in several events, for the first time ever, to help protect and preserve our marine environment; Project AWARE‘s Dive Against Debris on Monday June 6, 2016 and World Oceans Day on Wednesday June 8, 2016.
World Oceans Day was introduced first in 1992, and occurs on June 8 every year. It was officially recognised by the United Nations (UN) in 2008. The day aims to raise awareness of the importance of the oceans as a source of food, oxygen and medicine, but also the challenges humanity faces to protect it.
Our oceans are the largest living space on Earth and are important for many reasons;
- Oceans generate so much of the oxygen we breathe
- Oceans feed us
- Oceans regulate the earth’s climate
- Oceans clean the water we drink
- Oceans offer a pharmacopoeia of medicines
Unfortunately our oceans around the world face many challenges that threaten not only the species that live within, but humanity’s own survival. There are many threats to our oceans today including:
- Unsustainable fishing of which 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or overfished, threatening ocean life and it’s habitats.
- Inadequate protection. Oceans might cover over 70% of our planet surface, but less than 5% of our oceans are currently protected.
- Tourism and development means coastlines and beaches are more populated, increasing the threats on marine life, especially pollution.
- Pollution not only affects the food chain of the marine world, but humans as well. Most land pollutants such as pesticides, fertilisers, industrial chemicals, sewage, garbage and plastics all eventually end up in our oceans.
- Climate change has increased sea temperatures and sea levels, affecting specifies distribution, increasing coral bleaching and changing marine habitats.
This year’s World Oceans Day theme is Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet. Both events I was part of focused on marine debris that threatens our oceans today.
Marine debris includes not only plastic based materials, but polystyrene cups and packaging, rubber (boots and tyres), metals (oil drums), glass, fishing lines and gear. Lost and discarded fishing gear entangles whales, seals and most turtles. Many marine creatures die from ingesting marine debris which damages and blocks their digestive systems.
The most frequently found item in beach cleanups is pieces of plastic, with other popular items to include plastic foam, plastic utensils, pieces of glass and cigarette butts. 60 to 80% of marine debris is made up of plastic, with 6.5 million tonnes of plastic being discarded by ships alone.
Dive Against Debris at Carr’s Bay, Montserrat
Our team here at Coral Cay Conservation were part of Montserrat Island Dive Centre‘s monthly debris and beach clean up at Carr’s Bay on Monday June 6, 2016. This bay has been adopted by Charley and her dive team at Montserrat Island Dive Centre as part of Project Aware‘s Adopt a Dive Site.
June 2016 marks the team’s seventh consecutive clean up which involves both a beach clean sweep and Project Aware’s Dive against Debris.
Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris was created by divers for divers. This is a global, underwater survey of marine debris that aims to not only remove debris, but prevent harm to marine life and influence policy changes and prevention. The debris collected is documented and the data recorded and reported.
The event kicked off at Carr’s Bay around 9.30am with Charley briefing us on the debris dive. We had a few extra items with us for this dive including a mesh bag to collect the debris and gloves to protect our hands.
We spent the next hour collecting marine debris around the reef and off the ocean floor.
We collected a total of 16kg of debris that included 13 bags of plastic, 27 pieces of plastic bottles, 31 plastic pieces of cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons, 32 different pieces of plastic fragments, 152 aluminium beverage cans and 29 cans (food, juice or other). Other items included a car part, a toothbrush, fishing line and a cigarette lighter.
We only collected a fraction of marine debris that was under water at Carr’s Bay. Charley and her team at Montserrat Island Dive Centre have been diving for debris at this site for the past seven consecutive months. You can view just how much marine debris has been collected by Charley, as well as divers around the world on the Dive Against Debris map.
The second event occurred on Wednesday June 8, 2016 at Brades Nursery on Montserrat. Led by our field base manager Susan, staff and volunteers performed a puppet show about the marine reef creatures of Carr’s Bay whose daily lives were being affected by all the marine debris on the reef.
There is so much we can do to protect our oceans and the marine creatures that live in it, from reducing our use of plastic to simply taking all our rubbish with us and putting it securely in bins. We can choose seafood sourced from sustainable fishing practices, use environmentally friendly chemicals and sunscreens, and always look and not touch all the marine life we see when visiting the sea.
Happy World Ocean’s Day, 2016!