5 MIN READ

3-11-2024

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Ocean Plastic

Mikaela Walsh, 4ocean Research Analyst

People worldwide strive to be along the sunny coastlines for relaxing beach days. But what does this attraction to the ocean mean for our open waters and marine life?

Tourism is essential for coastal economies as it is a way to bring more people to local businesses, but what effects does this have on the environment? Tourism greatly benefits local businesses and increases ocean education. Traveling to the coastal waters helps raise awareness of the issues occurring within the aquatic environment. Visiting new areas worldwide is exciting and adventurous, and seeing different cultures and backgrounds is essential. Discussing environmentally safe practices when going to the beach and the consequences of tourism in beach towns is helpful when traveling.

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Many people love to travel and experience new atmospheres, but what is the impact on our environment? A popular beach location can be found along the Santa Marta beaches in the Colombian Caribbean. Here, researchers examined eleven beaches during peak tourist season versus non-peak season. The findings showed that during the season's peak, there was an abundance of litter left along the coastlines compared to low tourist times. Plastic debris was responsible for up to 77% of the litter found left along the coastlines with easy access to the ocean. These researchers concluded that tourism was the primary source of litter, and the most abundant type of litter was plastic. Ensuring the protection to these distant areas is imperative for a healthy ocean worldwide.

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Plastic pollution plagues our aquatic environment and is starving the marine life that calls the ocean their home. In 2018 alone, an estimated 14.5 million tons of plastic entered the ocean, continuing to accumulate yearly. Plastic debris does not break down as a biodegradable option but instead breaks into smaller pieces of plastic until it reaches microplastic size. Plastic pollution has deadly effects on marine organisms, and plastic particles have also been found in humans. Plastic debris ingestion is widespread among marine organisms and can have fatal effects. While plastic production continues to happen rapidly, marine organisms are facing these consequences and it is causing widespread population decline. Plastic was designed to last long periods without deterioration and can stay on earth for up to 500 years. Plastic pollution is a crucial topic that more people must be aware of. Due to the one-time use and convenience of discarding after, single-use plastic consumption is the most detrimental to our oceans.

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A common issue causing harmful effects on our environment is not using reef-safe sunscreen. Lack of awareness of chemicals in most sunscreens is poisoning the reefs. Coral reefs are a highly talked about building block and home to almost a fourth of the known marine organisms. Coral reefs aren’t only essential for marine life; they account for a large amount of the earth's oxygen. Photosynthesis occurs when carbon dioxide and water are taken in by an organism along with sunlight to create oxygen and glucose (sugar). Certain organisms can do this, for example, plants and trees. Coral reefs are unique in that they have cells that harbor in them to be able to create oxygen through photosynthesis. These corals are vital to our ecosystem, not only for providing a home for marine life but also for having the ability to photosynthesize.

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4ocean x Stream2Sea
Reef-Safe Sunscreen Balm

Shop now + Clean the Ocean

Coral reefs have difficulty sustaining themselves due to warmer oceans, destruction, chemicals, and pollutants that are plaguing our aquatic environment. Sunscreen brands commonly put cheap chemicals in their products that block UV radiation. Certain chemicals have been found to harm local reefs and cause bleaching. Bleaching in coral reefs occurs when the coral is under stress and expels the photosynthetic algae. This does not mean the coral is dead, but they are more susceptible under this state. One of the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen that causes significant damage to corals and sea anemones is oxybenzone, along with other emerging chemicals. Reef-safe sunscreen is an essential travel accessory when visiting coastal waters due to the importance of maintaining local and oceanic coral reefs.

  • Paper straws: a better sustainable option for marine life because they break down and do not take decades to decay. Paper straws soak up the liquid as people drink them, which can be inconvenient, but it is still a safer option than single-use plastic straws.
  • Reusable straws: are commonly made of glass, metal, or hard plastic but can last many years without discarding them after a single use.
  • Biodegradable straws: Scientists are continuously working on creating the ideal biodegradable straw. Single-use biodegradable straws can decompose at a reasonable rate, unlike plastic, which fragments into microplastic.

Overall, there are more sustainable options available that can reduce the unnecessary use of single-use plastic straws.

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The marine ecosystem is home to vast biodiversity and harbors critical organisms. Plastic pollution and toxic chemicals are two leading causes of population deterioration amongst marine organisms and coral reefs. Traveling is a great way to explore and venture to new locations, but maintaining environmentally safe practices is imperative for the ecosystems. If you are traveling to the ocean this year, leave the beach with everything you came with and wear reef-safe sunscreen!

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4ocean x Stream2Sea
Reef-Safe Sunscreen Balm

Shop now + Clean the Ocean
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Photo: Jesshaddenphoto

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