World Oceans Day

Every Saturday, the Quartz newsletter shares a short editorial piece about a topic. I am nearly always impressed by how much they pack into a few paragraphs. Yesterday’s piece on “World Oceans Day” was no different.

Today is World Oceans Day, an international affair to celebrate the seas and sing their blues. Observed since 2002, the occasion is marked by conservation events around the globe. This year’s sad theme is plastic pollution.

Just as scientists are starting to make sense of the mysteries of the oceans’ depths—we recently discovered what makes the deep-sea dragonfish’s teeth transparent—the world’s waters are under serious threat. Rising temperatures are melting ice caps and pushing sea levels up globally, but there’s more. Human trash is everywhere, making its way into the bellies of beasts even in the oceans’ nether reaches.

Take Monterey Bay in California. It seems clean, but the pollution levels are profound. Researchers recently found the concentration of microplastics in the bay’s depths rival the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s filthiest stretch of ocean.

Located between Hawaii and California, the patch is a shifting mass of trash covering about 618,000 sq miles (1.6 million sq km). That’s roughly three times the size of France.

Every year 8 million metric tons of plastic—which can take decades or centuries to decompose—enter the oceans, adding to theestimated 150 million metric tons already circulating. As the Ocean Conservancy notes, “That’s like dumping one New York City garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year.”

This waste travels to places human divers can’t access. The Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific—where the deepest fish in the seareside at 26,600 ft (about 8,100 m)—is considered the lowest place on Earth. But it too has a plastics problem. A recent study of the six deepest trenches in the Pacific Rim found contaminants in 72% of the 90 creatures examined.

The most helpful thing would be for industries to change their destructive habits. Still, personal actions do matter. The World Oceans Day website offers ample motivation, explaining, “A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival…It generates most of the oxygen we breathe, helps feed us, regulates our climate, cleans the water we drink, offers a pharmacopoeia of medicines, [and] provides limitless inspiration.” —Ephrat Livni

If this topic interests you, they also have started an excellent newsletter called “The Race to Zero emissions.” Akshat Rathi categorizes relevant news from the week by its effect on either increasing or reducing emissions.

Regardless of the political weather of the moment, our effect on this planet and the climate is going to be the most important issue of our time.

The challenge with reporting on climate change is to talk about the facts without making it feel like we’re completely doomed. Awareness of what is happening is important. Optimism and hope are important too. The Quartz team does a good job striking the balance.