Three-hundred endangered turtles were found dead off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico last year: victims of a discarded industrial fishing net. This tragedy has come just weeks after high concentrations of toxic algae killed hundreds of turtles, fish, crabs, manatees, and even a 26-foot whale shark along Florida’s Gulf Coast: the result of toxic leaks from factory farms that are fed into the ocean from the Mississippi River. The pointless death of so many endangered creatures is heartbreaking but, sadly, we only have ourselves to blame.
What are we doing to our oceans?
Scientists have mapped marine “wilderness” areas around the world for the first time, and what they’ve discovered is deeply worrying.
Only 13 percent of the world’s oceans can be classed as “wilderness”, or as areas that haven’t been negatively impacted by activities such as fishing, pollution, and shipping. Very few coastal areas meet the wilderness criteria and that includes coral reefs which are normally some of the most biodiverse habitats for marine life in the ocean. Scientists found that most of the areas defined as “wilderness” fall within the Arctic, Antarctic and around Pacific Island nations where human activity is more limited, but such areas are rapidly vanishing around the globe.
Scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society have declared that fishing, as well as run-off waste and chemicals from industrial farms, are the two most significant ways in which humans are negatively impacting ocean ecosystems. These harmful activities coupled with the influx of plastic pollution (46 percent of which comes from fishing nets) are disrupting ocean life and, in turn, depleting ocean resources.
Climate change, which animal agriculture is a leading driver of, is also threatening the habitat of every species that calls the ocean home and, as you’ve probably noticed, the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. This summer, we’ve seen them play out in real time in the form of unprecedented heat waves, floods, and droughts. There have been record-wildfires in Sweden and America, water-shortages across Europe, deadly heatwaves across Canada and Japan, and the worst drought in more than a century in South Africa, with many people dying as a result.
The situation is serious; very serious, and it’s not somebody else’s responsibility to deal with it.
In a recent report from the BBC, Dr. Rachel Hale from the University of Southampton identified that:
“Formal protection of these wilderness areas would not be able to protect them from stressors such as climate change and invasive species”.
This effectively means that unless humanity stops contributing to the leading causes of ocean pollution, disrupted ecosystems, and declining oceanic populations, then we simply won’t be able to save our oceans, no matter how many plastic bags, bottles and straws we avoid.
So, do you want to save our oceans?
- Stop Eating Fish
Don’t let your compassion for others and your environmental concerns end where your appetite begins.
None of us need to eat fish because we can get all the nutrients we need, including omega-3, from plant-based sources. We merely choose to because we prioritise our enjoyment of eating a tuna sandwich, a crab cake, a piece of salmon sushi, or a fillet of battered cod over both the life of that animal and the detrimental effect that modern fishing methods have on our oceans. As a result of our insatiable demand for fish, suppliers to that demand haul up to 2,700 trillion(2,700,000,000,000) fish from the ocean each year.
Most people eat fish and other animal products without a second thought, and without connecting their food choices to the heartbreaking reports of species extinction, dying coral reefs, and developing-world suffering they hear about in the news. However, for every 10 tuna, sharks and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans 50 to 100 years ago, only one is now left and that’s because of our intense efforts to thoughtlessly catch, kill and eat as many sea animals as we possibly can.
And, if we continue doing what we’re doing, scientists predict the total collapse of ALL fish species in less than 50 years.
Our selfishness has to stop now and we have to start taking more responsibility for what we put into our mouths.
Remember: if we don’t buy it, they won’t fish it.
There was a time not so long ago when we didn’t think twice about our excessive use of plastic bags, straws, and bottles, but gradually – and thankfully – we’re beginning to see these products as harmful and unnecessary, and as a society we’re making a more conscious effort to both recycle and to move away from single-use plastics. We now need to start thinking about fish and animal products in the same way because, aside from being the primary reason that our oceans and our planet are dying, these foods also represent the acute suffering and needless death of animals that wanted to live.
If you have ever doubted whether fish feel pain then you need doubt it no longer. The collective evidence is robust enough that biologists increasingly accept that they do.
It can perhaps be hard for us to imagine what a fish’s internal experience or perception might be like. They don’t purr like cats or wag their tails emphatically the way dogs do. When we see a trembling dog or cat looking out from a cramped cage at a Chinese meat festival, we see an emotional creature we can relate to and we feel compassion. Fish are always in another element, silent and unexpressive. We don’t know what they feel, and so we tend to assume they feel nothing.
However, there are parts of ourselves that we can recognise in fish – spines, pain receptors, endorphins and all of the familiar pain reflexes – and these are the similarities that matter. Fish have the ability to feel pleasure and to suffer, and they ultimately deserve our compassion.
In his bestselling book ‘Eating Animals’, Jonathan Safran Foer asks some very important questions in order to make a very relevant point:
“Is the suffering of a drawn-out death something that is cruel to inflict on any animal that can experience it, or just some animals? Just how distant are fish from us in the scheme of life? Is it a chasm or a tree that defines the distance? If we were to one day encounter a form of life more powerful and intelligent than our own and it regarded us as we regard fish, what would our argument be against being eaten?
“The lives of billions of animals a year and the health of the largest ecosystem on our planet [our oceans] hang on the thinly reasoned answers we give to these questions.”
Almost all of the fish and seafood we eat comes to us by way of longlining, beam or bottom trawling where enormous nets are dragged along the sea floor picking up anything and everything in their path. Longlining — a technique that consists of baiting thousands of hooks along fishing lines up to one-hundred miles long — snag thousands of creatures in a similarly indiscriminate fashion. Whilst subjecting fish to a slow and distressing death, usually by suffocation, the indiscriminative nature of modern fishing techniques means that hundreds of other species are also killed in the process.
These unwanted species, referred to in the industry as “bycatch”, often include turtles, sharks, and dolphins, many of which are endangered. Every year, commercial fishing kills around 100 million sharks and as many as 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises as bycatch. ‘Eating Animals’ author Foer describes the untenable wastefulness of this method very well:
Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.
Modern fishing technologies and techniques, brought against marine life in the spirit of domination, have viewed nature as an obstacle to overcome, and so while industrial fishing is not exactly factory farming, it certainly belongs in the same category.
According to Daily Telegraph environment correspondent Charles Clover, modern industrial fishing has turned our seas into “a vast killing field filled with technologically-sophisticated deep-ocean fleets from the First World devastating the waters of the Third.”
Put another way; we are basically eating away our oceans.
Such global concerns can often feel distant, even though in reality they aren’t. As humans, we naturally care most about what’s close to us and have a remarkably easy time forgetting everything else. One thing is always worth remembering though, and it is something that our conscience should be able to readily remind us of at every meal:
Unnecessary killing is wrong.
The colossal havoc we are wreaking on our oceans is entirely unnecessary and it absolutely has to stop. Not next year or next month or even next week, but right now – this very minute.
What else can we do?
- Stop Eating Meat
Meat consumption has a huge impact on our oceans as well because run-off animal waste and fertilizers from industrial farms pollute our rivers and, subsequently, our coastal waters. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that more than half of all US rivers are now unsuitable for aquatic life; largely due to nutrient pollution from industrial farming practices.
The Mississippi River which, at 2,320 miles long, is the main drainage system on the North American continent, carries significant amounts of fertilizer, organic nitrogen, and phosphorous manure leaks from factory farms down into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the largest hypoxic zone (ocean Dead Zone) in the world. Fluorescent green algae blooms have appeared in the water off the South Coast of America as a result.
Dead Zones are areas of ocean that would normally be teeming with life but, due to pollution, most marine life has either died or left the area. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico currently spans over 8,750 square miles, an area of water greater than that affected by the BP oil spill – “the worst environmental disaster in US history.”
Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), states that what we’re now fighting is the “incredible arrogance and the ecological insanity of humanity”. In a recent Facebook post he passionately wrote:
“The Ocean needs action, not talk. Plastic needs to be banned. International conservation laws need to be enforced. Heavy gear industrialized fishing needs to be banned. Agricultural run-off needs to be stopped. Domestic salmon farms need to be abolished. The exploitation of krill needs to be stopped. The slaughter of whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles must stop.
“People need to stop eating fish… to be educated that our very survival as a species depends 100 percent on a healthy ocean and that when the ocean dies, we all die – every single one of us.”
It’s time to act.
Go vegan today and help protect both our oceans and our future. Our vegan starter-kit will help you.