Thanks to a Canadian initiative at the 1992 Earth Summit, the world celebrates Oceans Day on June 8. Unfortunately, our oceans haven’t done so well lately, putting a little damper on the party.
We’ve overfished and under protected them, polluted them and ignored the undeniable impacts of climate change. We’ve treated beaches as opportunities for high-rise housing developments, carelessly disregarding the ensuing stress on shorelines and marine life.
Oceans are warming and acidifying, causing disruption to marine life and habitats. Corral reefs are bleaching. Sea birds are dying off. The polar ice caps are melting.
The B.C. Liberal government shamelessly promotes the oil and gas industry, urging more oil tankers into the Salish Sea where the inevitable accident will cause catastrophic damage.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to grow. It already stretches from the North America West Coast to Japan, in two giant swirls called the Western Garbage Patch and the Eastern Garbage Patch, and known as the Pacific trash vortex.
Currents in the Pacific Ocean round up more garbage every day. Most of it is non-biodegradable plastic that has broken down into tiny pieces.
Facial scrubs intended to exfoliate dead skin, and toothpaste intended to whiten teeth, and other personal care products, contain plastic microbeads. They’re little bits of plastic so small that the filters in most wastewater treatment plants don’t catch them.
Just one tube of facial scrub may contain up to 300,000 microbeads.
When they reach streams, lakes and oceans, these beads absorb other pollutants, and are consumed by fish and shellfish. Like plastic bags, they persist in the water and in sediment for more years than we can imagine.
When marine life consumes these microbeads it affects the food chain all the way up to you and me.
But even if we all stopped using products that contain plastic microbeads today – and even if we never used another plastic grocery bag – our rivers, lakes and oceans will suffer from these persistent pollutants for a millennium or more.
And speaking of wastewater treatment plants … While Victoria area elected officials argue, the region continues to flush untreated sewage into the Juan De Fuca Strait. The citizens of Comox and Courtenay pump their poop — only slightly better treated with decades-old technology — into the Strait of Georgia.
But the existing CVRD treatment plant does not screen out pharmaceuticals, or remove nitrogen and other toxic chemicals to any significant degree.
Are you thoroughly depressed yet? Calm down, because there is a little bit of good news.
Fewer people now deny the reality of climate change, save Drumpf supporters in the U.S. and too many Liberal Party supporters in B.C. A new generation of people, including engineers and scientists, who have grown up with the impacts of accelerated global warming, will affect positive change.
They are glimmers of movement toward shoreline protections and restoration along the B.C. coast. Groups like Project Watershed in the Comox Valley, for example, take unilateral action and press governments for sensible solutions.
But when, we wonder, will humans acquire the wisdom to figure out the long-term consequences of our consumption of everything from fossil fuels to toothpaste before — instead of after — they cause such damage?
Something to ponder on Oceans Day.