World Oceans Day: This drain is where the sea starts

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Today is World Oceans Day and I can't help but be reminded of a trip which I was fortunate enough to go on last summer. We set sail in our ship, the Esperanza, as part of Greenpeace's Pole-to-Pole expedition to investigate the quantity of microplastics in the sea, specifically in the Sargasso Sea, in Bermuda.

Prior to this trip, I had seen many images of rivers, beaches and estuaries filled with whole pieces of plastic – bottles, bags, spoons or small coloured specks easily identifiable as plastics, which scientists would refer to as macroplastics and microplastics. But what I saw there left me speechless. For the first time, I witnessed first-hand how our seas are being flooded with plastic pollution, even with plastic which is invisible to the human eye. In a tropical blue sea with paradise-like sandy beaches, it seemed impossible that we would prove our theory that there were significant levels of microplastics there. But sadly, it was true. We only had to start sampling to find evidence of the high density of plastics which were present in the water.

During the expedition in the Sargasso Sea. © Shane Gross / Greenpeace

For years here at Greenpeace we have been denouncing the high levels of plastic pollution from which are oceans are suffering, and we have been working with individuals, companies and institutions to put a stop to it. We have taken many steps and made many commitments. Increasingly, we saw people were bulk-buying and avoiding consuming single-use plastics in supermarkets. These establishments had set to work, some more actively than others, to eliminate single-use plastics and a European Directive had been approved which will ban their use.

But then COVID-19 hit us and turned our lives upside down. Many things have changed and one of these is the use of disposable plastics. There are no official figures, it is too early for that, but the increase in disposable plastics is plain to see, perhaps this has been prompted by the false sense of security that they provide in many cases. Moreover, for our safety and to fight the virus, we now have to use masks. Our streets are now suddenly littered with lots of discarded masks, along with single-use gloves.

But, did you realise that if you dump your masks or gloves on the ground they could end up in the ocean? Carried away via surface runoff, a water course or a drain, your mask could end up in the sea. Did you know that it takes more than 100 years to degrade? Did you know that we are also putting other people at risk by discarding them like this? Did you know that there are renewable alternatives?

All this has motivated volunteers from Greenpeace to go out into the streets from today to raise awareness of this issue. We want to help people see the importance of taking responsibility for the waste we generate and where it ends up. We will be painting the slogan "The ocean starts here" on the drains of the main cities in Spain, along with various marine animals, to see if this way we can get people thinking.

Activity of Greenpeace volunteers for World Oceans Day.

Last week, the Spanish government approved a draft law on waste; this should help to reduce plastic pollution in our seas, but this will not be enough. At Greenpeace, we hope that this law brings significant improvement before it is finally approved so that it can truly enable us to reduce the waste that we are generating and opt for a much more sustainable model than the current one, which is causing so much damage to the world's bodies of water.

Plastic pollution, chemicals, overfishing, climate change, deep mining, surveys….Enough is enough! Protecting our oceans is an urgent necessity. Only 3% of the surface of our oceans is protected. Meanwhile, the health of our oceans and the species which live there are increasingly under threat.

The oceans are the basis of all life on our planet. Without healthy oceans, we will be faced with catastrophic effects on biodiversity and the Earth's climate. Governments around the world are working on a Global Ocean Treaty. If they succeed, they will open the way for a huge network of marine sanctuaries which could protect one third of the planet's seas.

On World Oceans Day, Greenpeace is also calling for the way we protect our oceans to be reinvented in view of the serious threats they are facing. Because we need healthy oceans and the oceans need our protection. Sign our petition!, retrieved on 11.08.2020

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