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Marine Life is Facing Threats Never Seen Before

Can you guess what is the majority of solid waste polluting the marine life? Is it microplastic, plastic bags, PET bottles or plastic straws?

All wrong. Dumped fishing gear makes up for 48% of the total waste dumped in the ocean. According to the report from Greenpeace International, more than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.

Rubbish hauled from the water by Ocean Voyages Institute. (Source: Jackson McMuldren/Ocean Voyages Institute)

In 2020, the Ocean Voyages Institute conducted the “largest open ocean clean-up in history” in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the stretch of water located halfway between Hawaii and California considered to have the most plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. This expedition took up 48 days of sailing, the crew successfully removed 103 tons of fishing nets and toxic consumer plastic.

Turtle skeletons tangled up in the nets. (Source: Jackson McMuldren/Ocean Voyages Institute)

From the report of the Ocean Voyages Institute, much of the damage caused to the marine life from plastic pollution was clearly visible, with the crew discovering a number of turtle skeletons and dead coral reefs from the marine life tangled in discarded nets.

Aside from the discarded fishing nets, we also need to consider how the marine life has been damaged at a rapid pace, just the same as how we lost millions of acres of rainforest on land per year due to deforestation.

How our diet contributes to harming the marine life

Seaspiracy

Recently, Netflix released a documentary which criticized the commercial fishing industry with a massive underground movement, despite many countries around the world already having fishing regulations: Seaspiracy. It highlights the adverse effects humans have caused to the marine life from seafood consumption which sustains the commercial fishing industry.

Thanks to Cowspiracy -which is produced by the same team as Seaspiracy– it is a known fact that animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Maybe some of you or your loved ones are already transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle in order to not be affiliated with animal exploitation. However, who would’ve thought that the fishing industry is far more exploitative than animal agriculture; but since it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.

A fisherman holds a freshly cut dorsal fin from a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini). (Source: Jeff Rotman/jeffrotman.com)

For instance, shark fin soup is still considered as a delicacy in China and Hong Kong, due to the local belief that it is thought to have a medicinal value; yet there is no scientific evidence. It is a symbol of status in the Chinese culture. In the past, Chinese Emperors favored the soup as a dish that honored guests because it was thought to have medicinal benefits and represented a victory against powerful sharks. Ironically, sharks are now turned prey.

Alongside the shark finning industry, Seaspiracy also shows that the commercial fishing industry in general is a corrupt system. According to the Sea Shepherd Captain Peter Hammarstedt in Seaspiracy, 300.000 dolphins and whales are killed each year as a result of bycatch. Bycatch is the unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught during commercial fishing for a different species. It isn’t a surprise, since commercial fishing uses trawl nets. As an illustration, 45 dolphins are killed for 8 tuna.

Trawl nets usage doesn’t just threaten the lives of sharks, whales and dolphins; but also the coral reefs on the seafloor. The nets drag heavy weight at the bottom, scarring the seafloor that was once abundant with life, leaving nothing but a barren wasteland behind. It’s equivalent to the land deforestation, but it has more massive adverse impacts since 50-80% of oxygen on earth is produced by phytoplanktons in the ocean; not from land rainforests.

According to UNDP, over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. However, today we are seeing 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks overexploited, reaching below the level at which they can produce sustainable yields.

Artisanal fishermen catches tuna from Buru Island, Molucca. (Source: Anton Muhajir/Mongabay Indonesia)

In Indonesia, trawl nets are raising objections from small-scale fishermen along the country’s coast. Last 2020, Chinese fishing vessels were caught using trawl nets to fish in Natuna waters. Meanwhile in Medan, North Sumatera, traditional fishermen are kept getting rigged by the modern fishermen using destructive trawl nets and seine.

Indonesian artisanal fishermen are no competition for the modern fishermen, trawlers and foreign fishing vessels. They go to the ocean within fear that their small boats would get trampled over the giant fishing vessels. Day by day, they caught smaller numbers of fish due to overfishing. On April 6th, Indonesian fishermen commemorate the National Fisherman Day. this would be a great momentum to celebrate the fishermans day and was intended to push the government to protect and improve the welfare of Indonesian fishermen, also supporting sustainable fishing.

The greatest threat to the marine life

Marine life has never faced this much of a threat before. The menace of overfishing, climate change, pollution and marine habitat loss are jeopardizing fish stocks, aquatic life, and the lives and livelihood of millions of people depending on it.

Coral reefs in the offshore of Aceh Besar, Aceh province, Indonesia. The reefs survived the 2004 tsunami is in a crisis state because of the Andaman Sea rise of temperature. (Sumber: Heri Juanda/AP Photo)

But there’s another problem that’s seldom mentioned: Apathy. Unlike many of the issues facing the ocean, it’s one that should be easy to put right. And ironically, it’s one that nobody is really talking about. From the facts dismantled from Seaspiracy, most of them don’t get highlighted and we couldn’t find any coverage of those from the media. Safe to say, the lack of awareness is caused by the lack of access to information.

In the Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 14 aims to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal lifes from pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification. Alas, marine life is not a priority in saving mankind and nature.

Healthy coral reefs along with a few fish swimming around it, in the Karimunjawa National Park, Jepara, Central Java. (Source: Aji Styawan/ANTARA Foto)

For all their importance to people and nature, the oceans are often out of sight and out of mind, and don’t feature prominently on the planetary priority list. A recent survey of 3,500 leaders in the Global South revealed that SDG 14 was almost universally considered the least important of the Goals, with just 5 percent of those questioned including it in their top six. At the end of the day, the greatest threat marine life is facing doesn’t just come from overfishing or climate change, great garbage patches of plastic or rising seas, habitat loss or illegal fishing. It comes from apathy.

After reading this, please don’t think that your effort of going less waste is pointless. Every small step counts, all the more reason to do it collectively. So, don’t stop composting, don’t forget to bring your reusables, shop in bulk, go in public transportation, and please don’t get tired of implementing sustainable consumption and production. We’re all in this together!

References

Andersen, K. (Director). (2021). Seaspiracy [Motion Picture].

Fairclough, C. (2-13, August). Shark Finning: Sharks Turned Prey. Retrieved from Ocean: Find Your Blue: https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/sharks-rays/shark-finning-sharks-turned-preyen

Figueiras, S. (2021, March 25). Netflix Seaspiracy Review: If You Can Still Eat Fish After Watching This Film, We’re Not Made The Same. Retrieved from Green Queen: https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/netflix-seaspiracy-review-if-you-can-still-eat-fish-after-watching-this-film-were-not-made-the-same/

Holme, C. (2018, November 18). The Biggest Threat to Life Below Water? Apathy . Retrieved from Sustainable Brand: https://sustainablebrands.com/read/collaboration-cocreation/the-biggest-threat-to-life-below-water-apathy

Ilham, M. (2021, March 25). Kisah Agusri Nelayan Tradisional Asal Natuna Bersaing dengan Kapal Ikan Asing di Laut. Retrieved from Tribunnews Batam: https://batam.tribunnews.com/2021/03/25/kisah-agusri-nelayan-tradisional-asal-natuna-bersaing-dengan-kapal-ikan-asing-di-laut?page=3

Laville, S. (2019, November 9). Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-fishing-gear-is-biggest-plastic-polluter-in-ocean-finds-report

UNDP. (n.d.). Goal 14: Life Below Water. Retrieved from UNDP: Sustainable Development Goals: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-14-life-below-water.html#:~:text=The%20world%27s%20oceans%20%E2%80%93%20their%20temperature,the%20Earth%20habitable%20for%20humankind.&text=The%20SDGs%20aim%20to%20sustainably,th

Widyaningrum, G. L. (2020, July 7). Aksi Pembersihan Laut Terbesar Berhasil Kumpulkan 100 Ton Sampah Plastik . Retrieved from National Geographic: https://nationalgeographic.grid.id/read/132231434/aksi-pembersihan-laut-terbesar-berhasil-kumpulkan-100-ton-sampah-plastik?page=all

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