We all know that forests are the lungs of our planet. What gets far less attention is the fact that our oceans are just as important in keeping us in supply of oxygen.

Today is World Ocean Day and the theme is “Healthy Ocean, Healthy Planet: Plastic Pollution”.

We talked to our very own marine ecologist and member host Bibi Gratzer on the subject. The following captures some of the highlights from a longer article written by Bibi.

‘The ocean is the heart of the planet. It pumps its blood, it brings the oxygen it needs into every little cell. It produces more than half of the air we breathe, and it sucks up billions of tons of carbon-dioxide and stores massive amounts of methane in its depth. Gigantic underground currents function as the main driver of our climate.

One of the hotspots of biodiversity in the ocean are coral reefs. They harvest a quarter of the marine life in total, but cover less than 1% of the oceans surface. More so, coral reefs are the spawning ground and nursery of most of the fish we eat – tuna for example. They are a gigantic pools of abundance that we appreciate and, it can be argued, need.

However, coral reefs do not need us. Each mass extinction has left the Earth without living coral reefs for at least four million years but they regenerated over time. A long time. The threat to us is, that when the reefs suffer, the entire ecology of the oceans is under attack.

Consider this: Due to the nature of water, the oceans are incredibly well connected, something that becomes more vivid when we exchange the idea of air with the idea of water in our world. Imagine that I throw one single cube of sugar into the ocean and wait until the entire water has mixed, which takes roughly about three years as scientists have calculated. The results is that we can find 5-6 molecules of that very same sugar cube in every single litre of sea water. Picture what this means for anything that we throw into the water anywhere in the world at any given moment. One small action sparking a mind-blowingly wide effect.

Now consider plastic. In the form of micro-plastics, this is a major contributing factor to the dire straits of our oceans. Once micro plastics have entered the water chain they are incredibly difficult to extract. Most micro plastics are plastic pellets shed from larger items, broken down over time. A lot of household items such as body scrubs and dish cloths contain micro-plastics which are washed down our sinks adding to the plastic soup in our oceans.  Any item containing plastic can be a contributor to this. Consider this next time you buy a plastic bottle or a plastic bag or leave a cigarette butt on the street. And for any glitter bugs out there, beware – get the biodegradable glitter for the festival season this year. The conventional kind is jam-packed full of micro-plastics!

Maybe you have heard of the gyres? A gyre is a bit like the current in the bathtub, when we pull the plug out. Thus, a gyre creates a current that traps materials within. These are the hot points where the state of the plastic problem raised our attention to red alert. In total there are 11 gyres in the ocean, each a toxic whirlpool of plastics.’

You can find out more about Bibi’s work at Bibigratzer.com. Bibi and Alexander Prinsen are running a workshop on the Blue Economy framework on Saturday 2 July. Click here to find out more.

There are lots of initiatives and innovation going on in the area of cleansing our oceans from the destructive forces of micro-plastics. Below are a small selection of links, let’s share and find out more about what’s going on out there!

Ellen MacArthur Foundation – report on ‘The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics’

WWF – Plastic Soup Lab

Boyan Slat – Dutch inventor who created an ocean scraper: Theoceancleanup.com