Saving our Oceans – a Look into Ocean Pollution and Leaning Towards More Eco-Friendly Lifestyles.

Written by Cassidy Picciano, with research by members of LMC Fights Waste.


Cassidy Picciano, Editor in Chief

Spring has sprung and students are heading to beaches all across the world for a relaxing spring break. What seems like a nice getaway on the surface can be a real problem under the tides. Increased tourism is just one of the many contributing factors to ocean pollution.

According to the World Economic Forum, scientists are predicting that 90% of the world’s coral reefs will die by 2050 and that the ocean’s biodiversity is degrading at an increasingly alarming rate, mostly due to human activities. Tourism is on a spike – the United Nations World Tourism Organization claims that the number of international tourist trips worldwide reached 1.3 billion in 2017, and they predict in 2030 it will reach 1.8 billion.

In comes tourists and up goes the level of plastic and toxins in our ocean. Many beach-goers use sunscreen to steer clear of nasty sunburns from the sun’s harmful rays but aren’t aware their sunscreen contains toxic chemicals that can kill marine life, cause coral reefs to degrade, lead to rising sea levels, and ocean acidification.

Rather than opting for no sunscreen at all, take a more sustainable approach and choose a reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen. In 2018, Hawaii announced a ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone and/or octinoxate (Hawaii Act 104), which are chemicals that are toxic to some coral species and could slow the growth of others.

Some eco-friendly sun protection brands like Sun Bum have committed to following Hawaii’s regulations by removing these chemicals from their products. According to Sun Bum’s website, all of their products are “Hawaii Act 104 reef compliant,” as well as promising products that are equally as effective in protecting from the harmful effects of the sun.

While on spring break in Puerto Rico, I was intrigued to learn about the effects of these sunscreen chemicals specifically on their bioluminescent bays. Bioluminescent bays are rare and special – there are only five in the entire world and three of the more famous ones are in Puerto Rico. 

Microscopic organisms called Pyrodinium bahamense (dinoflagellates) in the water light up bright blue when agitated, causing not only a pretty sight, but also lots of research questions to learn more about these dinoflagellates. The increasing research on the organisms, though, shows they too are affected by these chemicals in our sunscreens, lotions, and other products. 

The bays in Puerto Rico have begun to opt for kayak tours of the bay rather than allowing tourists to swim in the water. While, sure, it would be cool to swim in the fluorescent water, what’s even cooler is protecting the world’s rare and beautiful ocean habitats by staying out of it.

Ocean pollution goes far beyond just chemicals of sunscreen making their way into the ocean. Plastic is yet another pollutant. Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects and particles in Earth’s environment that adversely affect humans and other living organisms. 

A 2015 study labeled “An Ocean of Plastic: Magnitude of Plastic Waste Going into the Ocean Calculated” from Science Daily showed that the ocean contains around 150 million tons of plastic, with an annual addition of 8 tons of plastic a year. This number continues to increase rapidly. When we lead towards single-use plastics like bags and bottles, they are discarded and end up in landfills or in the ocean. 

Plastic does not biodegrade like other natural materials; it breaks down into microplastics which persist for many years. One Planet predicts that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

There are over 270 marine species being affected by plastic contamination. A recent study by EcoWatch found that ¼ of the fish at markets in California and Indonesia contain microplastics. It is predicted that humans now consume up to 5 grams of microplastics a week. There are toxic chemicals like phthalates and BPA in plastic as well, also being consumed by humans.

In an effort to leave as little of a footprint as possible while on vacation, I brought a reusable water bottle with me and pledged to not use a plastic water bottle once. In an effort to steer clear of plastic shopping bags, I brought a few reusable tote bags to carry groceries or other things around. Planning ahead for vacations by bringing reusable items is just one simple way to be proactive about reducing waste in general, but also reducing waste in someone else’s community that you’re just visiting.

While some of the more popular reusable bottle brands can get pricey, there are some more affordable options, including Hydro Flask, which is currently running a $25 sale on their large bottles, as well as committing to reducing emissions and waste. They also offer a trade-in program which allows consumers to send back their old bottles to be properly recycled for a $5 reward towards a new bottle. 

When it comes to large businesses, it’s worth mentioning that our individual sustainable efforts are only just a band-aid solution to the larger problem at hand. In May of 2021, the Plastic Waste Makers Index published that only 20 petrochemical companies are responsible for 55% of the world’s total single-use plastic waste. ExxonMobil topped the list with 5.9 million metric tons contributed to global plastic waste. 

With this information, rather than seeing it as your efforts not making a difference, understand that large companies need to make changes, but we are also responsible for making our own changes. The same study by the Plastic Waste Makers Index showed that the United States and Australia were the largest contributors to “throwaway” plastics – racking in more than 50kg (approximately 110 pounds) per person per year in 2019. Our personal pollutants do affect the world, maybe not as much as the unsustainability of large corporations, but we have to take care of the world as well.

Consider supporting businesses that have promised to help take care of our oceans rather than ruin them.

A personal favorite of mine is 4Ocean, an ocean cleanup company dedicated to ending the ocean plastic crisis. They have already pulled over 28 million pounds of trash from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines. 4Ocean is known for their bracelets made from 100% recovered plastic cords and 95% post-consumer recycled glass beads. According to their website, for the purchase of one bracelet, they are able to use the funds to pull one pound of trash from the ocean. 

Seventh Generation is a home care company with products ranging from laundry, dishwashing, cleaning, personal care, and baby care, but, unlike many other home care companies, they are committed to climate action, sustainable sourcing, minimizing plastic, and a pledge to remove all chronic toxins from products by 2025. They are transparent with consumers about their “fingerprint” – their 2021 impact report is readily available on their website, outlining, explaining, and evaluating all sustainability efforts by the company. Seventh Generation has also never taken part in animal testing since their founding in 1988. I’m personally a fan of their 100% natural lavender-scented line of products, which comes in laundry detergent, disinfectant spray, dish soap, and more.

We might want to change up our phone cases every now and then; Pela created the first-ever compostable phone case in response to the growing plastic problem within the mobile industry. Pela’s customers have prevented the equivalent of almost 50 million plastic bags from entering the ocean just by purchasing a smarter alternative to phone and other device cases. With an extensive range of cases for several phone models, iPad generations, and bands for different smartwatch brands, there is something for everyone. Patterns range from simple backgrounds to floral scenery, jellyfish, and mountains. 

To learn more about ocean pollution and how you can minimize your footprint on the world, stop by the LMC Fights Waste table at Earth Jam on April 22nd on campus. We all have a hand in reversing the damage we’ve done to the world and making it a better place. Whether it’s changing some of our day-to-day lifestyles for more eco-friendly alternatives or ensuring when we travel to a new place on vacation to be respectful of the environment, there are several ways in which we can be a friend to our oceans rather than an enemy (… or, alternatively, anemone).

Photos below: 4Ocean’s volunteers collect trash/waste and an image of one of the bracelets made from recovered waste.