What is being done about the ocean?

The environmental changes as of late have made it hard to ignore the state of our world.

With Vancouver receiving several feet of snow instead of its usual rainfall; Arizona reaching 52 degrees Celsius; and large sections of the Great Barrier Reef dying, we can no longer avoid the reality of climate change and the impact of pollution. As numerous factors must be considered, it is not surprising that people have begun to focus on specific issues one at a time, breaking down the larger issue into smaller more manageable ones. Among these global focuses is the welfare of the oceans and the impact of plastics on marine life.

It is thought that more than eight million tons of plastic enter our ocean every year. In an effort to tackle this inordinate amount of non-biodegradable matter, the UN held an ocean summit in June of this year, resulting in China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines committing to work at fixing the problem. Though their statement is a step in the right direction, the reality of returning our oceans to their former state of cleanliness is one still being contemplated by scientists globally. Not only does cleaning up our oceans require the reduction of the amount of plastic being discarded, but it is also pertinent that we find a way to undo the damage that has already been done.

Of those committed to a cleaner, “greener” marine environment, each has a different approach. In the past decade the process has begun with global preventative measures towards the pollution of plastics in the ocean. Over a dozen countries have begun by taxing plastic bag use or eradicating the use of non-biodegradable bags entirely. Recognizing the success of this approach, the mayors of three major New Zealand cities have recently joined forces to introduce such a levy on plastic bags nationally. The small tax has been shown to have a huge impact. In Wales it is thought that the use of plastic bags has dropped by 96% in less than twelve months.

In the direction of improving our knowledge on the impact on the ocean is the Rollenis Four-10 project. The REV, or Research Expedition Vessel, is set to launch in 2020. The 181.6m long vessel will be capable of taking samples at a depth of 6000m, reaching parts of the ocean floor which have thus far been difficult to reach. It also has the facilities for up to 60 scientists on research expeditions and uses technology to ensure the conservation of energy, as well as minimal environmental impact while in use. The project has received much attention, a lot of which from the funding that Norwegian Billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke has contributed to the project. The billionaire has reportedly put a “lions share” of his two billion dollars into this project, after getting his start in the fishing industry and climbing his way up despite having no secondary or further education.

While the expanding plastic bag policies and the Rollenis Four-10 project bring attention to the issue, there are still millions of tons of plastics floating in our oceans. Twenty-one year old Boyan Slat has been working to find a solution to directly tackle the already existing waste. This technology is described on the Ocean Cleanup site as “a passive system, using the currents as its driving force to catch and concentrate the plastic.” The concept involves a floating pipe with a screen attached, its currents hypothetically pulling marine life under as to prevent by-catch.

Though an interesting concept, scientists have their doubts about how it would perform in reality. A guardian article outlines scientists concerns about biofouling -where marine life attaches itself to structures, weighing them down. Additionally, the feasibility study released in 2014 did not include information about the impact this system would have on species existing in the Gyre region, where the project was proposed to begin. Both of which seem to be legitimate concerns for the project.

These various projects and policy movements are integral in the legitimization of the issue and give hope that our global population is working towards a higher level of environmental awareness. However, they also highlight the fact that scientists are still struggling to find a system that will perform the clean up required. Researching the topic brings to light the concern of how few major governments are actively displaying policies regarding the preservation of marine life. It seems that the most tried and true system comes from the volunteers lining beaches to clean up the piles of trash that wash ashore.

Written by Annalisse Crosswell

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page