Sea pollution : oceans are not trashcans !

© A.Peyrot/Tara Expeditions

For a very long time we have considered the ocean as an infinite entity, or at least large enough to absorb all the pollution made by man.

Today we know that marine biodiversity is suffering from the results of human activity – mainly the pollution originating in the large cities of our industrialized civilization. Hydrocarbons, plastics, heavy metals, chemicals, nitrates and other complex pollutants are changing marine ecosystems. But where does this pollution come from? From land! With  rapid development and population growth concentrated in the coastal cities, the vast majority of our used water and refuse unfortunately ends up in the ocean, after passing through watersheds and stormwater drains. The proper collection and recycling of plastics is only at its beginning and is not yet a reality in developing countries, where pollution produced in the big cities is released into the water with almost no treatment.

These various forms of pollution of terrestrial origin represent about 90% of the waste at sea and are now a major problem, not only for marine biodiversity but for all of mankind. Why? First of all, because they threaten the overall health of the ocean, putting at risk its ability to ensure the ”ecological services” essential to life, such as the production of oxygen, carbon sequestration and climate regulation. Secondly, because these pollutants are absorbed or eaten by marine organisms and often end up on our plates, without us really knowing the health risks. A recent study by the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France reports that for every kilo of mussels we eat, one gram of Bisphenol A, a very harmful component of plastics, is absorbed by the body. We do not yet know the extent of its impact on our health.

Faced with this reality, how can ordinary citizens, lovers of the sea, and the sailing community help to change things? Even if litter from maritime activities represents only 10% of this pollution, every sailor must take the responsibility of not throwing harmful waste into the sea. Sailing boats and motor boats must compact their waste and unload it once they have arrived in port. In addition, each navigator can become an ambassador for the oceans by relaying messages of hope to help advance solutions. More specifically, boats can even contribute to scientific research by using certain sensors, probes or buoys employed for the identification of marine biodiversity, as is the case for the Barcelona World Race, which requires skippers of IMOCA monohulls to be equipped with certain scientific instruments during the world tour conducted every 3 years.

André Abreu, International policy advisor at Tara Expeditions