England is surrounded by sea, and the furthest you’ll ever be away from it is if you live in Derbyshire or Leicestershire (there are difference of opinion, here!) It’s around 70 or 80 miles, which is no more than a weekend away. So of course, the island is home to all kinds of marine creatures, which sometimes stay here all year, and others migrate to warmer or colder climates, depending on the time of year.
Read The Ocean Book (recycled paper). This informative book looks at the issues (over-fishing, pollution, noise, climate change, rubbish) and what we can do to help. Switch to OceanHero. For every 5 searches, sponsors remove one plastic bottle from the ocean.
What is clear is that pollution, noise pollution (navy ships etc), discarded fishing line, plastic waste and cigarette butts, all are harming marine creatures of all kinds. Along with over-fishing of certain species, so there is none left for other bigger fish and creatures that eat them, like seals. In Scotland, it’s only recently that the government finally acted on those who would shoot seals, due to them eating fish. They are seals, for goodness sake! That’s what they eat, they can’t help it. Humans could help by eating less fish, but that’s another story.
You can take part in annual beach clean-ups, but that’s not enough anymore. Surfers Against Sewage have a kit you can download to set up your own local beach cleans. Get the local council on board to start finding people and adding more litter bins, so your work is not in vain. Obviously keep safe, by using safety gloves and sharps boxes etc, should you find any needles or glass. The seas themselves are also very polluted, and there are a few things we can collectively to do help:
Issues Affecting Our Oceans
- Oil pollution is a big issue, with most oil spills coming not from tankers, but from small things done constantly (like people washing their cars on driveways, which causes oil and grease to fall undiluted down storm drains and into the sea.
- Algae chokes oxygen out of the water, and harms marine creatures. This is mostly caused by people using non-biodegradable toiletries and cleaning products with ingredients like artificial fragrance oils (that don’t biodegrade), and then get poured down kitchen sinks and showers, when the plug is pulled.
- Discarded fishing line harms marine creatures. If you go angling, take all your fishing waste with you, and set up a local recycling scheme or safely dispose of all fishing waste in a secure bin when back to shore.
- Noise pollution can harm. This can be from military testing to the noise from boats. In the Mediterranean, one pod of marine creatures began attacking boats, at the end of lockdown. It’s thought they were annoyed that after finally enjoying ‘a year of peace’, the fishing boats returned to cause noise pollution (and eat more of their fish) and they simply lost their temper.
- Cigarette butts get dropped off boats and into the sea in their millions, and those left on the beach get washed out to sea, where they never biodegrade. If you smoke, take your cigarette litter with you, or use a Boodi eco-ashtray (this uses sand to put out the cigarette butt and then you pour the sand out the hole in the bottom. You can then carry the safely extingiushed cigarettes in the ashtray, until you can safely dispose of them, when near a bin.
- Plastic waste is the other obvious one. Everything from plastic bags to flushed baby wipes and condoms and tampons all end up on our oceans, along with plastic cotton buds, just the right size and shape to fall down storm drains and go into the sea (along with nylon hair scrunchies, pens and anything else made from plastic, nylon or polyester).
- Balloons and fire lanterns both pose hazards. Latex ‘biodegradable balloons’ take 6 months to break down. Meanwhile, released balloons explode in the air and then fall to the sea, where sea turtles think the colourful fragments are jellyfish (their favourite food) so eat them. Fire lanterns are not just fire hazards (and often get mistaken for coastal flares, putting coastguard and lifeguard lives at risk) but they drop to the sea (or ground) leaving metal spikes in the ocean or in the fields of farmers, again causing harm. One fire lantern dropped into a German zoo recently, and several animals were killed.
How to Help Our Marine Creatures
- Live the zero waste lifestyle! Don’t buy more than you need, go plastic-free as much as you can, and take all your litter with you if you live near the beach. Don’t participate in balloon releases and never release fire lanterns. If you have to use disposable products like cotton buds, choose biodegradable versions free from plastic, and don’t flush anything bar toilet paper down the loo.
- Never flush things down the loo, other than toilet paper. Dispose of tampons, sanitary towels, condoms, cotton buds, baby wipes and anything else in a proper bin, as they don’t biodegrade, clog up drains (often causing garden floods) and eventually make their way to the sea.
- Switch to a natural sunscreen. Many sunscreens contain chemicals like nano-particles that can pollute the oceans. Most natural sunscreens use zinc oxide that is toxic to pets if licked, so always shower before allowing pets lick your skin, if used). Never use human sunscreens on dogs, the post includes tips on how to prevent heatstroke and safer alternatives for vulnerable pets.
- Never wash your car in the drive. You can find professional car washes that recycle the water. If not, then use a waterless car wash. The problem with home drive car washes is that unfiltered oily water goes down storm drains, and into the sea. It causes mini oil-spills that collectively, are as damaging as one big one. Use less polluting car wash alternatives. Get antifreeze changed at the mechanic (spilled antifreeze tastes sweet and is toxic to pets and wildlife) or at least use a funnel, to avoid spills. Use kitty litter to soak up any spills, rather than flushing it with water, which will just spread it far and wide.
- Choose biodegradable and zero waste items. This covers everything. Use cotton hair ties and plastic-free cotton buds(all these don’t biodegrade if they fall down storm drains and go into the sea). And use biodegradable beauty and cleaning/laundry brands that are either unscented or use natural essential oils (avoid for pregnancy/nursing). If not, the items cause algae bloom which chokes oxygen out of the water, and harms marine wildlife.
- Don’t release balloons or fire lanterns. Avoid kites (esp. at dawn and dusk, when birds more likely flying).
- Use zero waste feminine care. There are now many options as opposed to chlorine disposables.
- Wash synthetics ((polyester, nylon, recycled plastic bottles), in a microplastic catch bag. It’s not perfect but better, than switch to natural fibres like cotton, hemp or linen. Choose compostable washable cloths over microfiber cloths.
- If you holiday abroad in Florida or the Caribbean, avoid using jetskis, as these cause harm to marine wildlife (especially manatees – gentle sea cows). Follow boating codes to stay away and go slow. If you sail, see tips to be a greener boater (including taking a course to become a wildlife-friendly boater).
- Do your bit to reduce your carbon footprint. Climate change is changing the temperature of the oceans, and also affects food and migration patterns. The more we can collectively do, the better.
Found an Injured Marine Creature?
Most of us don’t have the knowledge or skills to know what to do. If you see an injured creature, stay away and call British Marine Life Rescue (the RSPCA or Coastguard can put you through) and follow their advice. Generally, you don’t return creatures to the sea, and never cover a whale’s blowhole as this is its nostrils, and you could stop it breathing if you do (it’s a mammal, not a fish). You may be asked to cover a creature with wet towels or hose them with buckets of water, but each situation is different.
If you can get enough volunteers together to form a group, the organisation lets you take a Marine Mammal Medic Course, and then you can be called out to help, in emergencies.
The Ocean Hero Handbook looks at the damage being done to our oceans, and simple everyday changes we can make, to help protect our seas. What can we do, beyond reducing plastic. Oceans cover 70% of our planet and provide us with more life support than we could know.