The world’s oceans produce more than half of the oxygen that sustains life on the planet. And their ability to absorb carbon dioxide helps protect all life from the harsh impact of climate change. Canada has the world’s longest coastline—bordering the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans—and one of the largest ocean bodies of any country in the world.
#WorldOceansDay is an opportunity to reflect on the how vitally important ocean systems are to sustaining life - and to become mindful of the ways we can take action to protect our planet's waterways each and every day.
1) Tell Your Government That Plastic is Cancelled
There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050. By now, all of us in the environmental movement have this phrase burned into our brains. Single-use plastics are ubiquitous around the world and the numbers are staggering: since the mass production of plastics began six decades ago, it has generated 8.3 billion metric tons (most of which is not even recycled). If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic going to landfill. It's estimated that 19 billion pounds of plastic ends up in our oceans every year (for a mental image, that's a dump truck full of plastic entering the ocean every minute), a figure that is set to double by 2025 if current trends are allowed to continue.
Clearly these trends cannot be allowed to continue - but how do we even begin tackling a problem of such magnitude? We all need to start where we are and act locally. Begin actively getting involved with groups in your area who are campaigning against plastic waste - in Toronto we have Toronto Environmental Alliance, StrawlessTO, Environmental Defence, StopPlasticsCA and Greenpeace Canada. Sign up for their newsletters and attend their in person events to begin building a roadmap for how to strategically lobby government bodies to place punitive fees and bans on single-use plastics. You can get started right now by signing these 5 petitions from the above mentioned groups.
2) Give Feedback to the G7 Leaders
Continuing from point one, World Oceans Day also happens to be day one of the G7 Canada Leaders Summit where world leaders will be discussing the plastic waste problem and the potential solutions. The Canadian Government has set up an online platform encouraging citizens to give feedback on what they think needs to be done. Please go here and make your voice heard, this is a very important opportunity. The more people speak up, the more likely the Government will understand that this is an important issue for voters.
You can also sign this petition from Environmental Defence Canada which gets sent directly to our Minister of the Environment with specific actions that should be taken at the G7 to combat plastic waste.
3) Carry a Zero Waste Kit
While we really do need governing bodies to enforce laws that restrict the production and distribution of harmful materials, in the meantime we can all do our part to avoid single-use plastics in our day-to-day lives as much as possible. Assemble and carry a Zero Waste Kit to avoid plastic bags, straws, plastic water bottles, take away coffee cups, etc. You can find our handy guide on how to assemble a Zero Waste Kit here. These kits not only help you avoid plastic yourself, they are also great conversation starters - a positive way to help other people around you to begin thinking about solutions to plastic waste.
4) Host a Water Docs-Where-You-Live Screening
At Water Docs Film Festival, our mission is not just to inform about the threats faced by waterways around the world, but to inspire a deep love and reverence for water that becomes a foundation for people to take action. It's too easy to become overwhelmed by the problems - activism for water must be grounded in the heart. To do this, we screen films and showcase art at our annual film festival to connect people with water in meaningful ways.
But what about the rest of the year? Water Docs-Where-You-Live program is our popular community program that lets organizations, businesses and individuals host screenings and discussions of films previously shown at our festival. This is an opportunity for local communities to engage with water issues - to spread awareness and guide people in what actions they can take to protect water.
5) Participate in Community Cleanups
Community cleanups often happen around specific environment days (#EarthDay, #WorldEnvironmentDay, #WorldOceansDay, etc). These are a great way to not only cleanse our public spaces of trash, but also serve to bring people together to strengthen community.
Consider launching a community group that organizes on a monthly basis to do cleanups around various parts of your city or register with Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup or A Greener Future to join beach cleanups close to you. You can combine this with a potluck picnic (but make sure its a zero waste picnic) to facilitate connections between people.
6) Reduce the Amount of Seafood You Are Consuming
Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are threatening the balance of life in waterways around the world. Overfishing is the single biggest threat to our oceans. One billion people rely on fish as a primary source of protein, and to meet that need we are fishing at a rate that our oceans can’t sustain.
If and when you do buy seafood, ensure you are getting it from a sustainable source. There is a long list of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)-certified seafood available across Canada. Take a look at MSC’s product finder to see what’s available across the country.
7) Make Water a Political Issue
This year at Water Docs Film Festival, our inaugural Water Warrior Award recipient Maude Barlow shared with us some key policy issues that we can lobby our governments to implement to protect water. She says the Trudeau Government should reinstate 3 water protection laws that were gutted by the Harper Government:
- The Fisheries Act - while there have been amendments to this act recently, they do not go far enough.
- The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
- The Navigable Waters Protection Act
8) Avoid Sunscreens with these Chemicals in Them
Hawaii recently passed a bill to ban the sale of sunscreens with particular chemicals that are killing coral reefs and damaging water ecosystems around the world. Scientists have found that two chemicals in sunscreens - oxybenzone and octinoxate - break down coral by leaching it of nutrients. These chemicals also disrupt the development of fish and marine life, like sea urchins and algae. Studies have also shown that the damage is being done from both people wearing sunscreen while swimming in the ocean as well as by showering, the wastewater from which is then sent to the sea.
Check the ingredient labels on sunscreens this summer and look for alternatives that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.