We need to protect marine biodiversity which is the variety of all living things on earth, from bacteria to bluebells to beluga whales. The richness of biodiversity in the web of life is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems and the subsequent ecosystem services that humans rely upon. Protecting biodiversity is therefore a critical part of conservation efforts as healthy diverse ecosystems promote human wellbeing and are more resilient to environmental pressures, such as climate change. The myriad ecosystem services that humankind rely upon are highlighted in the graphic below:
Biodiversity is therefore integral to ensuring food security, access to freshwater, regulating the climate and weather systems and supporting nutrient cycling which supports all other services. These all have major implications for the global economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of the relationship between people and nature. When we destroy and degrade biodiversity, we undermine the web of life and increase the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to people.
The UN Biodiversity Summit on the 30th September highlighted human dependence on a healthy planet and tackling plastic pollution is a key part of this equation. Changes need to be made in eight key areas, among them moving toward “sustainable fisheries and oceans.” This means, reducing sources of plastic waste in order to achieve the aimed-for levels of marine protection and restoration.
Heads of state from 64 countries, including the UK, signed a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, committing to work together to put ecosystems; land, ocean, and freshwater on a path towards sustainability and highlighting 10 urgent actions that need to be taken. They include, “eliminating plastic leakage to the ocean by 2050.”
So why do we need to reduce plastic pollution to protect marine biodiversity?
Every year, an estimated 8-12 million tonnes of plastic waste escapes into our oceans – the equivalent of putting five bin bags of plastic waste on every foot of coastline around the world.
Marine wildlife pays a heavy toll for this plastic pollution which affects more than 800 marine species. Whether it’s in the in the form of microplastic or macroplastic, plastic debris poses a serious threat to the marine ecosystem at all trophic levels from:
- Ingestion: Many species eat floating plastic mistaking it as a food source. This causes internal damage to the digestive tract, which can ultimately lead to starvation.
- Bioaccumulation and toxicity: Noxious chemicals in plastics accumulate in the tissues of larger species, many of which are then eaten by humans. Some of these toxins in plastics are known to be linked to cancer, hormonal imbalance and birth defects.
- Ghost fishing”: Entanglement in lost or abandoned fishing nets is estimated to kill 650,000 marine animals each year.
- Increased disease: plastic waste can also encourage the growth of pathogens in the ocean. A recent study showed that coral reefs affected by plastic pollution have an 89% chance of contracting disease, compared with just 4% for those that are not in contact with plastics.
This is where the GreenSeas Trust comes in. With an estimated 80% of the plastic coming from land-based sources into the oceans, our #BinForGreenSeas tackles plastic pollution at its source, by encouraging behaviour change. Find out more about this project and how you can get involved.