While I was about to indulge in one of my afternoon farmer naps the other day, I overheard a conversation between Antonio and Ivan, one of our farm members and co-owner of Maizal, a popular Mexican restaurant in Toronto.
They were having an interesting discussion about the ocean. Ivan had been asked a question recently by a company that helped businesses with their sustainability practices.
A lady from the company asked how Maizal kept up with their own sustainability practices at the restaurant. Lately, Maizal had been getting some buzz in the press about their zero food waste game.
Though it seemed to be new news, Ivan had actually been bringing Maizal’s kitchen scraps up to the farm for a long time.
As they say, one (wo)man’s junk is another (wo)man’s treasure — and while kitchen scraps are usually perceived as garbage, they’re actually a valuable contribution to our compost pile and food for some of our animals.
Ivan’s response was that it had never really been a challenge to implement these types of practices at Maizal. It’s not even formalized in Maizal’s mission, vision or business plan. It’s simply part of his, and his business partner Gabriella’s, core values as individuals.
Aside from upholding a zero food waste practice, and only using biodegradable take-out containers and cutlery, the seafood Maizal uses in their tacos and and other meals comes from sustainable fishing practices.
Ivan noted that relative to the land, the ocean seems harder to respect for many of us. Cavaleiro Farm is only 30 minutes away from the north part of the city, he observed. But oceans? We’re so far-removed from them, that it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of deal.
What we probably see more than the real thing are photos of luxurious beach getaways abroad, where days of basking in white sands and crystal clear ocean waters are promised.
The truth though is there’s a lot of ugliness happening within the depths of the Big Blue. Aside from the overfishing problem, there’s also the dilemma of how we’ve turned our oceans into giant garbage dumps.
Both are leading to not only the death of a significant number of ocean life, but to the decline of our own human world.
Plastic Ocean Waters
At first, I couldn’t seem to get my head around the extent of the problem. So, I found this video from a National Geographic article about the 5.25 trillion pieces (and counting) of trash floating around in our oceans.
It does a great job of breaking down exactly what happens with all the plastic that’s made in this world and ultimately thrown out.
One shocking stat that I wasn’t previously aware of?: “Because plastic does not rot, it lasts up to 500 years.”
Five hundred years. That’s a lot of time plastic has to kill floating around in the ocean (pun fully intended).
According to the video, here’s what happens: Over those many, many years, the plastic is exposed to the elements and, as a result, gets broken down into very tiny particles.
Those microscopic pieces of plastic absorb high amounts of toxins that have also made their way into the oceans from agricultural and other industries.
Ultimately, over 100,000 ocean animals die every year from swallowing the poisonous debris, which they mistake for food.
Not only that, a recent article reported that some of that plastic ingested by fish, in turn, ends up in our own stomachs. While experts debate over the extent of the risk involved, one can’t help but recall the old adage: We are what we eat.
(Photo Credit: Lawrie Skinner)
Marine life is also being decimated in large numbers by another culprit: overfishing. All around the world, a massive amount of fish — much more than can be replenished naturally — is being taken out of the oceans every single day.
Other marine species that aren’t necessarily being targeted, such as dolphins and whales, end up being caught as “by-catch” and dying anyway. (Here’s just one example of how current fishing methods have resulted in the slow, painful deaths of many dolphins in the UK.)
Overfishing also means that many people living in developing countries who are highly dependent on fish — both for eating and as a means of making income — lose out significantly. (Read here on how the near-extinction of some fish species is threatening food security in Africa.)
So, What Can I Do to Help the Oceans?
Sometimes when a problem seems so enormous — literally as vast as the ocean — it can seem pointless to do anything to solve it. Will my one action really make a difference in saving the creatures of the sea?
There are indeed actions that each and every one of us can take to give back to the oceans. And we certainly have much thanks to give.
As the former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Tony Haymet, explains: “Our life, our economies are totally dependent on the oceans. Fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe is made in the ocean every night.”
What you can do to stand on the side of sustainable fishing practices:
Sustainable fishing practices means that fish stocks and their habitats are given the time they need to recover and replenish to healthy levels.
- Vote with your wallet — Only buy/eat seafood products that come from sustainable fishing practices. Don’t forget: retailers and restaurants care about customers’ demands. You hold the power.
- Use sustainable seafood guides to help you make choices about what kind of seafood to purchase. There’s a few online (like this one from SeaChoice, or check out this list of guides from WWF). Or you can download a free app (search “sustainable seafood”).
- If you’re a business selling seafood products, look into what it takes to become a certified retailer or restaurant of sustainable seafood. Ivan shared that using sustainable fish products at Maizal didn’t mean an increase in expenses, as one might expect. Here’s an intro guide from SeaChoice to what selling sustainable seafood may entail.
What you can do to help relieve our oceans of the plastic dump:
For one, recycle your plastic. But wait, it’s a bit more complicated than just throwing anything into your recycling bin.
- Recyclable plastic items that are too dirty may end up being sorted out and diverted to the landfill — so make sure to rinse your recyclables before throwing them in the recycling bin.
- Can you recycle coffee cups? Read this to find out what you should do with your empty Starbucks cup (Toronto article).
- Be in the know of what other items are prohibited or a thumbs up for the recycling bin in your jurisdiction. (Here’s the list for Toronto).
- Reduce the demand for plastic water bottles, which are resource-intensive to produce and contribute to the plastic ocean problem, since the majority get thrown into the garbage. Instead, use smart alternatives (e.g. fill up a reusable water bottle; serve water in pitchers at work meetings).
- Use a reusable shopping bag when buying groceries and other products.
- Say no to plastic straws (unless a medical reason necessitates it). Here’s why.
Check out these resources for more tips on how we can reduce ocean pollution:
- How You Can Help the Ocean (Smithsonian Museum)
- 10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean (National Geographic)
- 7 Ways To Reduce Ocean Plastic Pollution Today (Oceanic Society)
Got any other tips to share on how we can help our oceans? Leave a comment below!
Photo Credit: All photos, unless otherwise marked, courtesy of Maizal Toronto.