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I have been connected to the ocean all of my life, surfing Manasquan Inlet, NJ in my youth, snorkeling and swimming in exotic seas as a kid on family vacations, and now loving life in perhaps the most pristine and diverse marine habitats in the continental US in my adopted state of Florida. I have always cared about the health of our environment in particular our estuaries and seas, but with my son having reached the age of 10 and getting certified in diving (I got certified one month before he did), our passion for the ocean and marine life has reached new heights.
Particularly awakening was our family vacation to Hutchinson Island that inspire this post where we enjoyed the beach, did 2 dives together (one off our boat on Jupiter Island, one off the beach), then visited the Florida Oceanographic Society. Our experience there was amazing as we learned about the physiology and life cycles of stingrays and seas turtles, got to pet and feed the stingrays (that were as sweet as affectionate little dogs), and enjoyed their diverse game fish reservoir the institute uses to teach visitors and train students of marine biology and marine veterinary medicine about how delicate the balance of the health of estuaries and the ocean; and how they work in concert to provide nursing/spawning grounds that propagate the species’ we enjoy to observe and sport fish in the ocean. The bottom line is that healthy estuaries are absolutely necessary to sustain much of the marine mammal, fish, and reptiles of the ocean (an estuary is defined as a region where fresh water meats ocean salt water).
While I cannot get into the entire presentations of the Florida Oceanographic Society visit, I was moved by their permanent resident sea turtles that live in the game fish reservoir because the results of their injuries would not likely allow them to survive in the wild. Sea turtles are among the most sensitive species in danger from man made compromise of estuaries and oceans as the result of ignorance and blatant disregard. A much as we love sea turtles and wish to see their species once again thrive, they are just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the damage that will result if estuaries and reefs continue to be decimated by unchecked human abuse:
1.) Plastic taking over our oceans
Plastic is not biodegradable, so when it ends up in natural environments, it is there to stay. According to Smithsonian Ocean, there is currently 100 million tons of plastic in our oceans. Considering the lightness of plastic, that number is staggering and it is evident where it is starting to become near impossible to dive reefs without finding at least a few pieces of plastic littering the bottom.
With regard to sea turtles that eat jelly fish and sea weed mostly as their dietary staple, plastic grocery bags floating in the sea look very much like either or to them and they consume them readily with deadly consequences. Plastics are also commonly consumed by many other varieties of marine life with devastating consequences. Plastic in the ocean also causes severe injury and death by entanglement. In all, about 1.1 million sea animals die per year as the result of plastic.
2.) Ocean acidification
Ocean acidification is another huge problem for our estuaries and oceans. Acidification of the oceans results from run off from commercial fertilizers, pollution, and increasing levels of carbon dioxide resulting from the increasing worldwide burning of fossil fuels.
Ocean acidification reduces oxygen levels in the water which bleaches and kills reefs and make estuaries toxic (considered to be one of the main causes of the death of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia).
What can you do to help?
- Use reusable grocery bags to purchase your groceries. All major grocery store chain offer them very cheap…the less bags they have to provide, the cheaper it is for them, so it makes economic sense.
- Recycle as much as you possibly can.
- Caveat to this is that many municipalities, sadly including my home county of Brevard County Florida, do not recycle many of the items that are recyclable. Single use plastic containers we commonly get from restaurants (fast food establishments and convenience stores especially use these a lot) are not recycled, even though they have the recycle label on them. Red Solo Cups that have recycle labels on them are not even recycled here. Only plastic bottles, paper and card board are recycled here and I only just learned this after 14 years of living here…the rest the could be recycled but Brevard chooses instead to manually sort them out and put in general trash unbeknownst to most of us.
- Don’t purchase the plastic containers in the first place. Sadly, only about 38% of plastic bottles are actually recycled and the plastic recycle process is not very good for the environment either. Most bottled water actually comes from soda companies. They have effective and large scale water filtration and purification systems in order to make certain that the water component of their products is uniform to provide the same taste across a vast number of global facilities. As people have begun to understand the health problems associated with soda consumption and drink less of it, soda companies got into the bottled water business using their already in place filtration systems that do effectively purify the water. The reason I bring his up is because it is quite affordable to rent similar smaller scale filtration systems that for a reasonable rental and maintenance fee has lines maintained and filters changed out monthly for homes and businesses. I have one for my home and for my veterinary clinic and simply refill my Yeti cup all day long, no plastic generated by my water intake in the first place!
- Do not use commercial fertilizers. They may pretty your lawn and landscaping, but fertilizer seeps into ground water, drains into storm drains and eventually makes its way into estuaries and our oceans. This does not mean that you have to sacrifice your lawn and landscaping. There are many companies that are environmentally safe and use organic fertilization products that feed and beautify your grass, bushes, and flowers that do not negatively impact the environment.
- Pick up trash whenever you see it in a natural environment. All divers, snorkelers, hikers, and beach goers should always make it a point to pick up any trash that they come across. On one of my first dives together with my son in Pompano Beach, I was so proud of him as he saw a plastic bag on the reef and he scooped it up and shoved it in his pocket, disposed of it on the dive boat when we returned. We should all follow his example.
- In need of single use disposable cups or containers? Use paper, not plastic. Let’s face it, sometimes we need disposable containers. I throw a birthday party for one of my kids, I simply do not have enough silverware, cups and plates for all of our guests, so I admit it, I go disposable. However, instead of using plastic plates and cups, I purchase paper ones. Many municipalities recycle paper containers but even in my lame county that does not, at least paper is biodegradable and will dissolve in a fairly short period of time.
- Support legislation and legislators and are proactive and prove that repair and maintenance of a clean, safe, and natural environment . When they do not fulfill their promises, write to them, create petitions, and hold them accountable.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.