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Incoming Friday, we will be celebrating our 16th World Ocean Day since it's establishment by the UN in 2002. Never has there been so many severe problems facing the waters surrounding us; climate change, overfishing, habitat loss and ocean acidification just to mention a few. Plastic pollution also seems to be getting worse by the day and it is expected to continue as the global plastic production continues to grow.
It might be easy to think that there is only so much a single person can do at the grassroot level. We are all busy with our careers, raising our children and figuring out how to best live our lives. However, we must keep in mind that signs of catastrophic shifts in many ecosystems are already here and if we keep doing business as usual, we should also be preparing ourselves for the worst case scenarios. There have always been judgement day predictions, but never before have we had such good scientific models of what the future might bring. Changes never happen over a night and blinded by the process, we might not be able to distinguish where something ends and begins and recognise that we are actually in the middle of that process.
So what can we do to prevent the worst case scenarios? According to a recent study published in the journal Science, the single most efficient way to reduce our impact on earth is to avoid meat and dairy. Leaving out animal products has a far bigger impact than reducing flying or using a car. Not only is farming animals on land responsible for habitat loss, fresh water pollution and green house gas emissions, but also fresh water fish farming, constituting almost all of the fish eaten in Europe, is a massive contributor to pollution and green house gases. So should we all go vegan? Quite frankly, yes. Luckily, it has never been easier to do so. The internet is full of wonderful, inspiring blogs and the grocery stores full with vegetable based protein sources. Just pick and choose.
Second, we need to rethink our use of disposable plastic. Now at the latest it is time to start carrying that fabric shopping bag and mesh fruit bag with you in your purse/man bag/car trunk. Choose the unwrapped vegetables, use cloth diapers with you babies, swop your sanitary towels/tampons for a lunar cup if you are a woman, even consider changing your shampoo flask into a shampoo bar (wrapped in paper). Use a keep cup for coffee, buy less stuff, invest in quality before quantity.
Pick up trash you come across in nature, go plogging (=jogging while picking up trash at the same time). Set example to your children by your own actions and accustom them to eating vegetables rather than meatballs and sausages (this will also improve their health). Support responsible companies and put pressure on politicians. And let's not do this only on June 8th, but every day of the year, each year. The last big extinction event, the one where the dinosaurs went extinct, took a good 5000 years to happen. Now we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event, but the question remains in which end of the event we are - in the beginning or the end. If we are in an early stage, we might still be able to influence the outcome. Let us make sure that our children and grandchildren can keep on celebrating the World Ocean Day.
The contributors to this blog are the marine biologists Maria Koivisto (left) and Anu Riihimäki (right).