How a little ocean optimism is helping clear up the blue planet

We take a look at the initiatives saving the underwater world this World Oceans Day

Our oceans provide us with every drop we drink, every other breath we take and endless inspiration, yet our knowledge of life under the waves is less than that of outer space, and what we do know about the marine environment is often scary or gloomy, or sensationalised into the plain ridiculous (Sharknado, anyone?).

But today, 8 June, is a chance to change that, because today is World Oceans Day, a day where we can take a few moments to discover some of the amazing things that are happening to make our blue planet a better place for all of us, fish and people alike. And as it turns out, there’s plenty to smile about.

For a start, just three days ago the British government used the Queen’s Speech to introduce a tax of 5p on plastic bags in supermarkets across England. This brings the country in line with the rest of the UK and most of the EU, and adds its name to an increasingly long list of nations and cities (including Washington DC, Rwanda, and China) that have applied either taxes, or a total ban on plastic bags.

The cumulative global impact of these measures will make a huge difference to the wildlife that lives in our oceans. Fish, birds, turtles, and marine mammals can all become entangled in plastic bags and debris floating in our waters. The Marine Conservation Society found over 4,000 plastic bags on beaches on just one weekend last year, but thanks to the recent announcement, this may soon be a thing of the past on British coastlines.

For the plastic already in the ocean, there are plenty of projects springing up to remove it and turn it into stuff we can actually use. See for example the Net-Works project in the Philippines or the Ecover’s innovative washing up bottles scheme, due to appear in UK stores this month.

The Zoological Society of London, Interface, and Project Seahorrse, Philippines have collaborated on a project to turn discarded fishing nets into high quality carpet tiles

If our oceans are to have a positive future we need to protect them more effectively than we are doing at present. A recent study published in Nature concluded that marine reserves must be large, isolated, old, well-enforced, and – crucially – completely protected from all forms of fishing and other extraction if they are to be effective. Thankfully, several leading NGOs are now campaigning for marine reserves that fit these criteria.

The UK itself has an incredible opportunity to contribute to the creation of such reserves in its overseas territories. The people of Pitcairn recently voted unanimously to create what would be the world’s largest highly-protected marine reserve – a truly humbling commitment from one of the world’s smallest and most isolated communities. If the British government grant their wish and designate marine reserves around the South Sandwich Islands and Ascension Island as well, then – added to the marine reserve already declared around the Chagos Islands – the UK will have protected 0.7% of the world’s oceans single-handedly. It’s not a huge figure, but it’s a crucial step in the right direction.

For more positive ocean stories, follow the #OceanOptimism hashtag on Twitter today, and add your own tweet to share the good news.