What effect has COVID-19 had on the ocean?
We’ve been conscious of the detrimental effects plastic, fishing and man-made pollutants have on our oceans for many years. But what effect does a global pandemic have on this?
The largest effects COVID19 had on the ocean were the reduction in commercial fishing, international shipping and tourism.
Within commercial fishing the impact on the ocean include, overfishing and depleting sources, habitat damage, bycatch of vulnerable species and the discarding of unwanted marine life. It’s estimated that 10% of all plastic pollution is made up of lost fishing equipment. A reduction in fishing has given marine life breathing space around the world and it’s hopeful that this will have a positive impact.
When we consider the shut down of most commercial businesses, this also meant a reduced amount of international shipping. Excluding the contribution to air pollution, ships cause ocean noise, oil spills and the spread of invasive species. International shipping has slowly been on the decline with a reduction of 5% year on year. However, due to the pandemic, this year it’s estimated to be the largest decline at 10%!
Tourism has one of the biggest impacts on water pollution. Cruise ships move to international waters to dump unregulated waste and this was estimated to be one billion gallons in 2014. Although this number will have only increased since then, a halt on this industry allows a little less waste to have been put in the ocean this year.
These three industries all had a stop or partial stop on their practices because of the pandemic. We may not be able to see this relief, but a few months of not over farming, not spreading invasive species, not spilling oil, not causing noise and not dumping unregulated waste will have allowed marine life to regain some of its former glory.
The positives also stem from ocean pollution becoming a topic of conversation once again. Discussions have arisen about the ocean being an untapped resource for renewable energy. This includes the capture of carbon, supporting the existence of ocean biodiversity, waste disposal and the protection of coastlines.
However, something we must consider and keep at the forefront of our minds with the ocean and the pandemic, is the increase in virgin plastic.
As the spread of COVID-19 increased so rapidly, the world surged in creating single-use plastic to try and reduce the spread.
It’s already been predicted that there are more floating disposable masks in the ocean than jellyfish and this is likely to increase if we don’t prioritize safe and sustainable disposal.
There are also larger responsibilities that companies and manufacturers are now faced with. Whilst the world stood still, oil prices plummeted. This means that it’s become cheaper for companies to produce products with virgin plastic than to use more sustainable methods, like recycled plastic.
With consumers choosing to use reusable items to limit the exposure to their families, it’s hopeful that these habits will continue.
Companies need to consider whether their eco values are more important than financial gain. If consumers show recycling and reusing to be a trend, this is more likely to happen.
The pandemic has brought pros and cons to the ocean’s pollution. With less activity, marine life will flourish. With discussions about more sustainable energy being able to be produced from the oceans resources, there’s a potential for a reduction in pollution not just for the ocean.
However, if responsible disposal of virgin plastic isn’t prioritized, the spike could be detrimental.
Continuing initiatives as individuals of beach cleaning, using our own reusable bags and bottles, zero waste stores and acting as responsible consumers, we can continue to have an impact to help reduce this. #ActNow!