There is nothing worse than freediving in paradise, only to find that paradise isn’t what it used to be. That paradise has been damaged, ruined aesthetically and physically by our own actions.
To me, one of the greatest threats to the way we live is the pollution of the oceans, and nothing so obviously personifies this pollution than plastics. A material designed to help us is well on the way to killing us and our planet.
Plastics greatest asset its durability, is also its greatest flaw. Most plastics will survive for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
On average a PET plastic bottle will only start to degrade after about 450 years. Think about that for a moment, that would mean that if plastics were invented 450 years ago, you could conceivably dig up and use a plastic bottle that Shakespeare used to have a post rehearsal drink. Now just imagine the quantity of plastics that could have accumulated in that time period, given how much we produce today. Last year the world produced over 300 million tonnes of plastic… and considering about 60 percent of that is single use, the numbers are terrifying.
If plastics stayed in the earth, in the soil, we would still be in trouble, but unfortunately a huge quantity finds its way to the ocean, no matter where it started or where it was dropped. It is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Thats more pieces than there are stars in the Milky Way!
One of the many problems with plastic as a product is its ability to be eroded and break up in to smaller pieces, many of which will end up being microscopic. These ‘micro plastics’ are easily ingested by fish, often mistaken for eggs etc. As they pass through the fishes system, some will block their digestive transit and kill the fish whilst other even smaller pieces can even be absorbed in to their flesh, along with the basic chemical components of the plastic. Above that, plastic can act as chemical sponge, absorbing heavy metals and other things we wouldnt want to ingest.
Unfortunately, or perhaps its just Karma rearing its head, we are now ingesting the plastics that we threw away, through the consumption of the polluted/infected fish.
Does it matter what i do?
Here at FreediveUK we are more aware than most about the impact plastic pollution is having on our marine environment. We freedive every day in the relatively clean water of the Atlantic ocean and on our holidays, all around the world. On every dive we encounter plastic… every single dive! That can range from plastic bags, to fishing tackle and discarded bottles. I cant remember the last time i left the water without a handful of plastics. Then on the walk back to the van we see people dropping litter on the beach or perhaps later dropping litter in the town. Perhaps if they realised that the litter they dropped is now ending up in the food chain they would think again? After all, even if you dont eat fish directly, you probably will ingest the plastics eventually through fish meal being used as animal feed etc etc.
No matter where you live, by the sea or as far from it as is possible, your use of plastics affect the health of the ocean. If you think that doesnt affect you, you couldnt be more wrong, after all, would you exist without the ocean? Is Mars brimming with life right now? No and no… we need the oceans in order for the planet to survive. It may not seemingly affect you right now, but it will in the future and it will definitely affect your kids futures.
Over the past couple of years we have visited the islands of the Andaman Sea, in Thailand, to visit the Moken tribe. This year we lived on a deserted island about 2 hours from the mainland. When on that island we cleared at least 4 bags of plastics from the one beach we were living on. A few days previously we had done the same on another beach about an hour away. What really hit home is that we picked up a plastic sign on that beach which clearly originated from a marina on the mainland where we had been staying before we left for the island. What are the odds of that being found on a distant beach miles from its source? The only way that can happen is that the sheer quantity of plastics leaving the mainland create such a stream of marine litter that this one piece found its way to where we were. Its a scary thought.
Can we fix it?
Doom and gloom. Thats the standard shtick you get from these kind of articles right? The end of the world is nigh and all that? Well it doesnt have to be. Yes we are in a bad situation, yes we have taken too long to react and yes we have a lot to do, but the point is that we can do something about it. That means you! For gods sake if we can send a spacecraft to Mars im pretty sure we can collectively sort this out right? Its a cliche but it all starts with you, small actions en masse create big actions. Its how we got in to this position in the first place. Why cant we reverse our actions? If you drop a single piece of plastic litter, imagine that everyone on the planet did the same thing at the same time! That would be 7.125 billion pieces of plastic litter. Even if it was only a Snickers wrapper that would be a total of 1615923 tonnes of plastic! Still not a big deal?
Here is a list of easy to enact changes that can make a real difference.
- So first thing, make sure all your litter goes in to the bin. Thats simple enough right?
- If you can, use bins that divide plastics from other litter do so.
- In the stores try to select products that use cardboard packaging or even better no packaging at all. Choose the vegetables that are offered loose, don’t get the prepackaged ones. After all why do you want your potatoes displayed in a little case?
- Don’t accept plastic bags from the stores, bring your own reusable ones. It can be hard to remember mind you. One way to do so is to always buy the re-usable one on offer at the supermarket, its like a little financial punishment for forgetting your own bag!
- At home can you re-use any of the plastics that you couldn’t avoid buying? Re-use plastic bottles as storage containers for dry products or other drinks. You can even use them as planters in the garden. Its just a vessel. Use it as such!
- Anything that cant be re-used or re-purposed make sure you recycle it. Make sure you remove the lids if they can be recycled you dont want to give anyone along the way a reason not to recycle it.
- When you go for a swim or a dive, bring a net bag to collect rubbish. You may not make a huge difference but its worth the effort. For one when people see what you are doing it may make them question their own habits… it may even make them go for a litter pick swim too!
- Organise or take part in beach cleans or plastic clean ups in open spaces near you. Who wants their kids to play in park full of litter? Until councils do a better job at this, its up to us, dont pass the buck!
- Finally, talk to people about plastics pollution. You would be amazed by how many people dont even know its a problem!
Get out there and make a change
One of the things we are doing to make a change, beyond our day to day activities is to support the Plastic Oceans Foundation. We will be doing everything we can to raise money for the work they are doing to help communities deal with marine plastics. All the profits from every T-Shirt we sell will now go to the Plastic Oceans Foundation as will any other fundraising activities we take part in.
About the author – Ian Donald is an AIDA master freediving instructor and author. He has been freediving since 2001 and has been instructing since 2009. He can often be seen on TV programs about freediving and is often called on to talk as a guest lecturer on the subject.