Sea of Change

Efforts to Reverse a Global Environmental Disaster

Capt. Steve Dougherty August 14, 2018

The profound effects we have on the environment are savage and it’s imperative we look to implement sustainable and ecologically responsible choices in every aspect of our daily lives. It’s a lifestyle not a trend, and there’s no more time to live under the illusion that our wasteful practices are in any way acceptable. From the harvest of sustainable food sources and natural resources, to efficient use of water and electricity, there are many habits you can adopt to help protect and save the environment.

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Photo: iStock

It should come as no surprise, but from coastal shallows to expansive blue water, treasured habitats and ecosystems around the world are under attack and threatened by a host of complex factors. While there are numerous challenges to overcome and many factors that impact the health of our seas, a lot of the negative contributions are beyond our control. One of the most notable issues at hand is currently fueled by a political agenda sweetened by sugar cane and strangling the Everglades like the invasive pythons that now make a home in the biosphere of international significance. Still, as environmentally conscious boaters and stewards of the sea our direct interactions have a significant impact on the surrounding environment. You might be under the assumption that your efforts won’t have any worth, but with a collective approach from like-minded individuals there can be a profound effect.

With over 663 miles of beaches, 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline and the expansive Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico fed by the powerful Gulf Stream and Loop currents, Florida offers plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors. However, with increasing use on all waters these precious treasures are facing threats like never before. And like the pelagic game fish we seek that know no boundaries, the actions of our neighbors near and far can be detrimental to overall conservation efforts.

Enjoying the outdoors relies heavily on the experiences and acts that are highlighted by clean water and healthy habitats that enable game fish and animals to thrive. Trash and debris that makes its way to the water, to our shorelines and onto our beaches, whether deliberate or incidental, makes an immediate impact as an eyesore to the pristine natural environment, but it can also be detrimental to the health of the area’s marine animals and seabirds. While cigarette butts and soda cans are a cause for concern, plastic is a much greater issue and our oceans are currently drowning in it. The stats are hard to digest, but so is a plastic bag to a sea turtle mistakenly foraging on a slightly odd-looking moon jellyfish.

Every year nearly 200 billion plastic bottles are discarded across the globe and since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1940s, there has been an estimated total of 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced worldwide. Can you believe the United States uses over 500 million plastic straws per day? This is insane considering most all of it is still in existence and despite timelines for biodegradability, plastic hasn’t been around long enough for us to know the real answers.

According to a plastic impact report recently released by the World Economic Forum, we are on track to have more plastic than fish, by weight, in the world’s oceans by the year 2050.

The current trend is alarming and even though it might be too late to fix the problem, it’s time you put down the plastic bottle and start relying on multi-use options. Not only is the newest double-wall vacuum insulated stainless steel drinkware the perfect solution for waning off plastic, but these modern cups are also more cost efficient and keep contents cooler for longer periods of time. Get with the program and kick the plastic! It’s a sad world we live in, but I bet you can’t go a period of five minutes without handling a piece of single-use plastic.

Regardless of material, trash of any kind should never be thrown in the water and you should be fully responsible for items that might leave your boat while underway. If you use the saltwater environment as your therapy you need to treat it with respect. Nothing ruins a pristine setting quite like the evidence of human interaction. No matter how insignificant you think littering is, the world is not your garbage can.

The movement to sustain our environment is spreading each and every day, with caring individuals working tirelessly to save our environment. In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 67, the statewide ban on carry-out plastic bags. More recently, the city of Malibu passed an ordinance banning the town’s 65 restaurants and food vendors from offering plastic single-use straws, stirrers and utensils. Not surprisingly, Florida took the opposite approach by imposing a ban on plastic bag bans in what was certainly a backdoor deal lining the pockets of a select few.

Though the sight of trash on our local beaches is enough to start a revolution, unfortunately what we cannot see could be even more harmful. Microplastics, particles less than five millimeters in size that deteriorate from larger plastic pieces that have entered the oceans, have been found in some of the most remote and uncharted regions of the world. Raising more concerns over the global scale of plastic pollution, exposure of filter feeders like manta rays and whale sharks to these toxins is still relatively unknown, though a whale carcass in France was found to have ingested 1,764 pounds of microplastics.

While fishermen can’t be blamed for all marine debris, discarded monofilament fishing line is a direct impact of angler interaction and one that’s largely avoidable. Monofilament line creates major problems for marine animals when ingested or entangled. To help combat this issue the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission established the Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program. This statewide effort encourages anglers to decrease the amount of monofilament that is discarded in local waters by way of numerous drop-off bins. Whenever possible, try to recover damaged or entangled line and place it in an approved bin. From here the monofilament is shipped to Pure Fishing where it is melted and recycled for future use to create plastic line spools, tackle boxes and more. Look for FWC outdoor recycling bins at fishing piers, boat ramps and marinas throughout the state or visit mrrp.myfwc.com to find a location near you.

While you can make a difference by picking up after yourself and others, you also need to be aware of your surroundings. Anchoring and operating in shallow water can cause catastrophic damage to the ecosystem. You may have had a great day on the reef only to leave a scarred habitat in your wake. Back at the dock it’s critical you support Florida’s Clean Marina Program and facilities that exceed regulatory requirements. You should also adopt green cleaning, fueling and maintenance practices. Yet another move environmentally conscious boaters can make to further the cause is to consider using bottom paints that produce significantly less volatile organic compounds, which when released into the atmosphere can cause long-term wellness issues for both the planet and its inhabitants.

Throughout your entire day on the water and in every aspect of our daily lives we must consider our interactions and potential environmental implications.

Truthfully, our wasteful habits are sickening and it’s time we band together to work for the future. Together, we can make a real difference and prevent a global environmental disaster. The time to act is right now!

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