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Riding the Waves of the Plasticene Epoch: Navigating Ocean Conservation in a Synthetic Age

In the realm of chemistry and oceanography, extensive research has been conducted to delve into the Earth's hydrosphere, specifically focusing on the ocean's primary component and the repercussions stemming from human activities. 

During comprehensive sea expeditions, findings indicate a widespread infiltration of plastic throughout the ocean, with additional growing concerns about the impending degradation of coral reefs due to rising seawater temperatures.

microplastics on a beach
Microplastics Have Reached All Areas of the Ocean. Photo by Photo by Sören Funk on Unsplash.

The ocean plays a crucial role in regulating Earth's temperature by absorbing 90% of the heat generated by greenhouse gases. This absorption not only helps mitigate the impact of climate change but also prevents a significant rise in global temperatures. Without the ocean acting as a vast heat sink, the Earth's surface temperatures would be considerably higher. However, the consequences of a deteriorating or "dead" ocean, characterised by loss of biodiversity and disrupted ecosystems, would be severe. In such a scenario, the ocean's diminished capacity to absorb heat would exacerbate global warming, leading to adverse effects on weather patterns, sea levels, and the overall stability of our planet's climate. Maintaining a healthy and functioning ocean is, therefore, essential for the well-being of the entire Earth system.

I coral reef with lots of fish and soft corals
The Importance of the Coral Reef. Photo by Deborah Holden

Scientists are increasingly indicating that our current epoch may be aptly labeled the "Plasticene" era, acknowledging the profound and lasting impact of human-generated plastics on the planet. Much like more familiar historical periods, such as the Industrial Revolution or the Information Age, the Plasticene age signifies a distinctive era defined by humanity's extensive production and widespread distribution of plastics. This synthetic age, characterised by the ubiquity of microplastics in oceans and their presence in diverse ecosystems, is comparable to significant stages in human history. However, unlike those periods, the Plasticene era is distinguished by the unintended consequences of our material innovations, leaving a lasting imprint on the planet's ecosystems and potentially defining this era for future generations.

The proliferation of plastic in the ocean poses a severe threat to marine life, with sharks particularly vulnerable to its consequences. The indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste contributes to the pollution of shark habitats, leading to entanglement and ingestion of plastic debris. As apex predators, sharks play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems. However, the presence of plastic can disrupt their feeding patterns, as mistaken consumption of plastic particles can lead to malnutrition and digestive issues. Moreover, the toxic chemicals released by decomposing plastics can further compromise shark health. Conservation efforts to safeguard these majestic creatures must address the pervasive issue of plastic pollution, recognising its direct impact on the ecological balance and long-term survival of shark species.

a shark swimming in the ocean
Sharks are of the Utomost Importance to the Health of our Ocean. Photo by Steve Woods

Analysing the potential for ocean cleanup, research maintains a cautious stance, emphasising the vastness of the issue and the limitations of current technologies. Projections indicate that plastic may persist on the ocean floor for extended durations, leaving a lasting mark on future sediment layers. Delving into the susceptibility of oceans to global warming, the research delineates heightened challenges, encompassing overfishing, plastic accumulation, and chemical pollution.

The findings emphasise the imperative need for ocean conservation and unravel the intricate challenges arising from human impact on marine ecosystems.

If you'd like to learn of ways to help the survival of sharks and what you can do to protect them and their habitat, contact us for information on shark education.


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