Most of us go about our day not thinking about the vast ocean where we get every second breath we take.  Now more than ever, the old saying that “everything is connected” holds true and with more urgency.   It’s getting quite clear and obvious that a lot of the things we do on land eventually affect the health of the oceans that we depend on for our very survival. 

The seriousness of the worlds’ problems tends to make us feel very small and insignificant.  If someone told you that your shared house is on fire, you surely wouldn’t sit around talking with your house mates to decide who should get the buckets first while everything burns all around you.  Yet for many years, that’s exactly what our politicians have been doing at the climate negotiations while trying to solve the most serious threat that we collectively face today.  The world holds its breath to see what happens this December at the important meeting in Paris.

But hang on - what has climate change got to do with the health of the vast ocean? 

Most people don’t know, but up to a third of the carbon emissions are being absorbed by the oceans and other bodies of water.  This makes the water more acidic, and impedes the process of calcification – where marine organisms need to form a shell or skeleton in order to survive.  You might not be having any more seashells in your soup in the future.

Corals get a double whammy too.  Aside from being highly dependent on forming an external skeleton, the warming oceans are also causing them to expel the color giving algae that they need to survive.  In times of extreme heat, corals turn white and then die. 

All this makes you want to give up and focus on other things that you can do something about.  And surely, if you really think about it, there are many things that you can do. 

Do you go shopping? Everybody buys something nearly everyday.  And most of the time what you buy needs to be put in a bag for you to carry around and take home.  And not so long ago, almost all of those bags were made of cheap plastic that was designed to be used once and thrown away.  A lot of this plastic winds up in the ocean and get carried away by the currents. 

Bye, bye, plastic?  Wrong.  They stay in the ocean for a really long time, causing damage and mayhem all throughout their existence.  There are areas of the ocean where plastic have accumulated and created a vast whirlpool of persistent pollution.  Who would have thought that your grocery could eventually cause so much pain?

There is now a global movement to get rid of single use plastics.  Many towns have done it.  Many groceries now refuse to give you plastic bags and insist that you bring your own.  So next time the salesperson tries to slip your purchase into a plastic bag, say “no plastic please,” and whip out the reusable bag that you should always keep with you from now on.  

Do you eat fish?  Then help ease the stress on the ocean by getting yourself informed on what is acceptable to eat.  Your favorite salmon for instance could be farmed, and comes from halfway around the world, ergo responsible for some carbon emissions.  Aside from that, it is possible that it took 3 kilos of completely edible wild caught fish that was ground into pellets to produce a kilo of that fish you like to eat.  Throw in the large amount of chemicals, waste products and medicine that some aquaculture can discharge into the environment and it makes for a compelling reason to ask about where your fish comes from. 

A lot of wild-caught fish are not looking pretty either.  Many are caught using destructive fishing methods that are almost unbelievable to comprehend.  Longline fishing that is used to catch some types of tuna is responsible for also reeling in thousands of tons of turtles, sharks and seabirds every year.   And it’s not a surprise, given that a single large long line vessel can lay out kilometers of line behind it, with thousands of baited hooks that can catch every large, swimming thing that goes past. 

So what to do?  There are many seafood guides out there, and they can provide some guidance.  If possible, buy local seafood that comes from community based fishing.  It’s tough right now I know, but we have to keep asking, and we have to keep moving toward a world where there is locally sourced seafood that we can eat with a clearer conscience. 

Anything more?  Of course.  Much more.  Regardless of where you reside, making personal choices can be the most powerful thing that you can do to help get the ocean healthy enough to sustain life on our blue planet -   our only home.


Mark Dia is the head of the oceans campaign in Greenpeace Southeast Asia. Follow him on Twitter via @markpqdia.