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Human impacts

Go Green for Earth Day!

Pretty, isn't it? "The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken when the Apollo 17 mission rocketed to the moon in 1972. This picture is featured on the official Earth Day Flag. [Wikimedia]

Pretty, isn’t it? “The Blue Marble” photograph of Earth, taken when the Apollo 17 mission rocketed to the moon in 1972. This picture is featured on the official Earth Day Flag. [Wikimedia]

 Today, April 22nd, 2016, is the 46th annual Earth Day, a worldwide movement dedicated to raising awareness for environmental protection. Today’s post is a bit different from most new oceanbites.org posts. Instead of talking about a cool new study, we’ll discuss some simple ways that you (yes, YOU!) can make a positive impact on the planet. 

Here at Oceanbites, we love our seas and oceans, and we hope you do too. You’ll remember from all the wonderful posts this week that the marine habitat is particularly vulnerable to environmental issues like microplastics, pharmaceuticals and persistent organic pollutants, overfishing, and habitat restoration (and if you don’t remember, catch up by clicking the links!). We can all do a little bit more to keep 72% of the planet healthy, even if you live somewhere inland and have to drive hundreds of miles to see the coast.

We’ve spent this whole week discussing environment challenges particularly relevant to the ocean…

Carrie posted on Monday about how the aquatic world, especially near waste water treatment plants, is increasingly becoming a soup of pharmaceuticals, detergents, personal care products, and other “human additives.” Try to avoid pouring stuff down the drain, and when you do, make sure it’s marked as biodegradable or eco-friendly. Also return any unused medication to your neighborhood pharmacist – they’ll make sure it’s disposed of properly and keep it out of the environment.

Even the most high-tech, expensive wastewater treatment plants are not 100% effective. [Wikimedia]

Even the most high-tech, expensive wastewater treatment plants are not 100% effective. [Wikimedia]

Anne’s Tuesday post detailed some of the challenges of ecosystem rehabilitation, showing us how re-planted mangroves are rarely as effective of natural mangroves due to reduced levels of biodiversity. The best restoration project is one that doesn’t have to happen: practice good stewardship and take care of the natural parks and coastlines by picking up after yourself. Try to volunteer at community clean-up events – you’d be surprised how much of an impact a small group of determined volunteers can have. 

A newly planted mangrove restoration area. While it’s a bit more work, re-introducing a mix of species tends to be better in the long run for ecosystem health. [Pixabay]

A newly planted mangrove restoration area. While it’s a bit more work, re-introducing a mix of species tends to be better in the long run for ecosystem health. [Pixabay]

 Overfishing was the focus of Ashley’s post on Wednesday . At the citizen level, this one’s a bit tricky, since fisheries are usually government-regulated. The biggest impact on individual can have is probably with their wallet (and stomach). Be informed, and support sustainable seafood or farmed fishes whenever possible to reduce pressure on vulnerable wild populations. Oceanbites has posted before about how comebacks are possible

The collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery is the textbook example of the consequences of overfishing [Wikimedia].

The collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery is the textbook example of overfishing [Wikimedia].

And on Thursday, Kari posted about microplastics, something we’ve discussed before on Oceanbites. A variety of marine life, including humpback whales, sea turtles, coral, and plankton, have been found to consume these plastics, and plastic is not a healthy diet. Microplastics are found everywhere from the high Arctic to the deep sea. We should all try to reduce our reliance on plastics, and use eco-friendly or biodegradable plastics as much as possible. Moreover, we should do our best to clean-up the plastic that’s already made it’s way into the environment – join up with some citizen science projects to clean up beaches and waterways in your home town. 

Plastic on the shore eventually slips into the ocean. The extent of the damage cause by plastic pollution is unknown.

Plastic on the shore eventually slips into the ocean. The full extent of the damage cause by plastic pollution is unknown, and is an area of active research [Wikimedia].

Healthy oceans are a good start, but we also have to take care of the other 28% of the Earth that is not beneath saltwater. After all, every single person on the planet lives there!

Here are some good general tips about how you can start making a positive impact today:

Reduce 

Just about every kid in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. knows the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. But sometimes, life gets in the way and busy adults forget the basics they learned in elementary school. Reducing, or preventing waste, is the first step in limiting our impact on the planet’s resources.

Reuse

 Use dry erase boards whenever you can, such as for late-night study sessions, to avoid going through too much lined paper. Or, if you have a lot of articles or print sheets, write on the back of those! Print on both sides of the paper, and print multiple pages per sheet as much as possible. Avoid buying products with excessive packaging. Turn off lights.

In the waste hierarchy, the best and most effective options for sustainability are preventing and reducing waste. [Wikimedia]

In the waste hierarchy, the best and most effective options for sustainability are preventing and reducing waste. [Wikimedia]

 Remember that DVD players, TVs, and other big electronic devices will go into standby mode when you turn them “OFF.” Unplug them or control them through a power bar (power strip to some of you) when they’re not in use. 

Plastic bags are often mistakenly ingested by sea turtles and other marine life.

Plastic bags are often mistakenly ingested by sea turtles and other marine life.

Reuse your plastic water bottles or, better yet, invest in a reusable metal one. Get some of those heavy cloth reusable bags for groceries – the thin plastic ones are catastrophic for sea turtles and other animals that mistake them for tasty jellyfish. Actually balloons are bad too, so make sure you POP them, especially if they are filled with helium – you never know where they’ll end up after you release them. 

Fueled by social media, there is also a healthy crafting and “life hack” movement out there centered on re-purposing everyday items. Did you know you that old Kleenex boxes work well as a plastic bag dispenser? Or that old toilet paper rolls are super useful for keeping cables organized? 

toiletpaper_mini

You can also draw on the sides of the rolls to make it easy to find your cables. [PetaPixel]

There are tons and tons and tons of webpages out there with ideas. Do some experiments to reuse your own discarded items – see if you can come up with a life hack of your own!

Many materials will have a recycling symbol imprinted on them somewhere. The numbers and letters associated with the arrows encode specific information for workers. [Wikimedia]

Many materials will have a recycling symbol imprinted on them somewhere. The numbers and letters associated with the arrows encode specific information for workers. [Wikimedia]

Recycle

Make sure you are familiar with the rules about recycling in your community – some systems, for example, can recycle Styrofoam and some other unusual materials. Shockingly, some cites don’t have a formal recycling program. Sometimes you can find independent programs – colleges, for example, may have their own recycling system if their town does not. You can also get involved in your local government to lobby for a citywide recycling plan, and make an impactful change in your community. 



Chill out with the thermostat  

 Heat (or air-conditioning in warmer climates) is a typical home’s biggest energy sucker. Try some natural air-conditioning – open your windows and doors in the spring and summer for some fresh air. Turn the thermostat down (or up) a couple of degrees before you go to bed, to work, or on vacation to save energy and money.

Even small changes in our habits, if enough of us get on board, can have a huge impact – every little bit really does help. So today, tomorrow, and in the future, try to be mindful of your impact on our planet – your ecological footprint – and you’ll be surprised how many of these little tips you’ll remember. Remember everybody – we have to take care of our Earth, it’s the only one we got!

Got some other cool eco-hacks? Post them in the comments! Contact us at oceanbitesorg@gmail.com! We’ll feature the best ones here. Also check out our 2016 Blue Year’s Resolution post for more ideas about how to protect our oceans and waterways!

Brittney G. Borowiec
Brittney is a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, Canada, and joined Oceanbites in September 2015. Her research focuses on the physiological mechanisms and evolution of the respiratory and metabolic responses of Fundulus killifish to intermittent (diurnal) patterns of hypoxia.

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