The Plastic Wool Being Pulled Over Our Eyes

Believe it or not, your plastic straw at Starbucks isn’t the biggest threat the ocean faces. In a time where our Instagram feeds are filled with ads for biodegradable plastic alternatives, and our politicians love to talk about single-use plastics when asked about their commitment to protecting our oceans, it might seem like plastic is the number one issue to address if we want to protect our ocean. But in reality, plastic is just one problem and nowhere near as devastating in scope as our exploitation of resources in the ocean.

The single largest pressure on the ocean right now is overfishing, bar none. In Canada, only one third of fish stocks are classified as ‘healthy’, and over 40% are ‘uncertain’, meaning we don’t even know how they’re doing but we continue to fish them! We’ve depleted our ocean of large fish like Tuna and Salmon, so we move down the food chain, drastically augmenting entire ecosystems. Now an issue like this seems a lot harder to tackle than ditching to-go coffee cups for a pretty reusable Yeti mug, but in reality, we know the steps that need to be taken and how to take them, we just lack the political and corporate will to do so. Fisheries management works, we just need to make sure that the departments are actually working. Just like with plastic pollution, consumers can by putting pressure on corporations with our wallets; look for seafood options that have robust eco-labels (check out this handy resource from SeaChoice to make sense of all the different labels) and try to buy seafood products that have a transparent, traceable origin (Skipper Otto is a great example of a company doing it right).

An example of the sensationalization of real issues is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), which has been making headlines for the last couple of years as a mountain of trash twice the size of Texas that can be seen from space, floating around in the pacific. This description of the GPGP is what happens when pieces of information are taken from articles and presented without context; in reality, the GPGP is a large aggregation of plastics brought together by gyres in the ocean, but most of it is made up of microplastics and it’s not one massive patch, as explained brilliantly in this video by Seeker. Sensationalized stories like these make it easy to focus on issues that might generate clicks online but ignore ones that demand our attention.

I don’t want to trivialize plastic pollution in the ocean, it’s definitely a cause for concern (microplastics specifically), but there are issues that don’t come with an 8 billion dollar market and aren’t simple enough to fix with a tweet, that need our attention even more.


Additional Resources (and references):

A great article breaking down the facts and fiction of Canada’s plastic problem 

Discussing the causes of overfishing in Canada

Information on seafood labeling in Canada

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