Water, a key ingredient in creating and sustaining life, covers nearly 71% of the Earth’s surface, 96.5% of which is ocean water (inclusive of seas and bays). The ocean is crucial to life on Earth. Yet, everyday we contribute millions of plastic to the 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces currently in the ocean. This enormous amount of plastic is disrupting marine life and damaging our oceans ecosystems.
Corals are an excellent example of the harm oceanic plastic pollution is causing. Corals are composed of hundreds of invertebrate animals called polyps found throughout the ocean. However, the kind of corals able to create reefs require clear and shallow water for algae to provide an adequate food source for the polyps through photosynthesis. Some types of corals, such as stony corals, require warm water but can survive in extreme temperatures between 17 and 34 degrees Celsius.
These requirements limit the locations where coral reefs are able to thrive. In fact, coral reefs make up less than 1% of the ocean but serve as the epicenter of the marine world, providing habitat, feeding, spawning, and nursery grounds to 25% of all marine life. Coral are beneficial to millions of species on land and in the ocean since they provide food, coastal protection, and income. Plastic pollution is among the many threats marine life faces; coral is no exception.
Microplastics are made in two ways: the breakdown of large pieces of plastic into smaller pieces or purposefully designed for the commercial use in products. The extremely tiny pieces confuse corals into thinking they are consuming zooplankton which can block their digestive tracts, making them believe they are full. As a result of this false sense of fullness, corals don’t get the proper intake of food, affecting their growth rate and survival. Furthermore, the algae the corals have a symbiotic relationship with, are expelled causing coral bleaching which can ultimately kill corals and destroy reefs.
Although it may sound silly, swimwear is one of the top pollutants responsible for the release of microplastics in the ocean. Most swimwear is made from synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, and spandex – which are all made from plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable, therefore, many swimwear pieces will sit in landfills, end up in the ocean, or are incinerated, releasing high volumes of carbon emissions.
65 million tons of plastic are produced annually, fueling the fast fashion industry to perpetuate the short-term usage cycle of clothing items. When these items are washed, they release microplastics which then enter the ocean through the waterways,impacting corals and other marine life. Oftentimes, they are swallowed by marine life human’s regularly indulge in, like fish, shrimp, or clams. Meaning the microplastics eventually enter into our bodies as well.
Creating the perfect sustainable swimsuit is tough; there are various factors to take into consideration when designing swimwear in terms of durability, protection, comfort, and much more. Currently, the best solution is to opt for a swimsuit made from recycled materials. Another alternative is to handwash your items in cold water, this will reduce the amount of microplastics released when cleaning your swimwear or if your swimwear is old, you can search for a local recycling center and donate your items to be repurposed.
Fashion sustainability is important to combating plastic pollution in the ocean. EARTHDAY.ORG’s Fashion for the Earth campaign promotes fashion sustainability and awareness about the dangers of fast fashion and the negative effects it causes on the environment. Similarly, the End Plastic Pollution campaign also combats plastic involvement and usage by raising awareness and taking action. Make sure to sign our fashion and plastic petitions and demand the United States play their part in fighting these scourges.
Together, these two campaigns are fighting for a cleaner future you can use to splash into a greener summer.