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World Oceans Day is an international day that takes place annually on the 8th of June. The purpose of the day is to inform and educate the public on the impact human activities have on the ocean and support the implementation of worldwide sustainable management of the world’s oceans.
To further facilitate awareness and education around the cause, we chatted with Marine Biologist Taylah Bruce, gaining insight into the subject from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes ocean conservation.
What made you want to become a marine biologist?
Surprisingly, I didn‘t actually grow up near any swimmable body of water (Darwin - crocs, jellies etc. haha). I think I had a fascination for stuff that I couldn‘t easily see, and just had to know more about it. When I was young I started reading ‘‘scientific‘‘ books about the ocean and taking down notes about all the weird and wonderful creatures, particularly coral!
What changes have you noticed to the marine ecosystem during your time as a marine biologist?
I‘m still quite fresh in the field, only graduating from my degree in 2016, but even in this short amount of time I‘ve been witness to 4 bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. A lot of the time, the corals can and do recover, but some places I remember visiting that were once vibrant and healthy, have since been turned to a gloomy and dull mass of algae and rubble.
Can you tell us a little bit about the direct impact humans can have on the health of the marine environment?
There are quite a few ways in which humans and our lifestyles have a direct impact on the ocean and ecosystems within it. One of the most detrimental is the issue of overfishing, and the careless overconsumption of unsustainable species. Commercial fishing practices often also produce a large amount of bycatch, which include all kinds of non–target species of fish, sharks, rays etc.
Another big one is of course marine pollution, which includes marine debris, plastics, harmful industrial, agricultural and residential waste, even sound! Most of this stuff is land–based, and eventually finds its way into the ocean through waterways or excess rainfall.
What are some of the products/pollutants that are having a harmful effect on the reefs and marine life?
There are of course a number of pollutants that come from the industrial and agricultural sectors, such as fertilizers, pesticides, oil, excess nutrients and sediments.
However many of the products we use at home and on a daily basis, can also affect our marine environment. One example is of course, sunscreen, which often we wear right into the ocean! Many of the cheaper, well-known and heavily-used brands are ironically the most damaging to marine life. They often contain a number of harmful chemicals that have been found to accumulate in fish, corals, algae, urchins, mussels, and even dolphins. Corals that are exposed to high amounts of these chemicals are much more prone to the bleaching events I mentioned earlier. Choosing reef-safe sunscreens is one of the easiest ways to help keep our reefs resilient against all the other stressors they currently face!
Can you tell us about the impact micro plastics are having on our marine ecosystems?
The issue of micro-plastics in the ocean is another pressing matter, and I‘m sure many people have heard that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight). Every minute, 2 garbage trucks worth of plastic are dumped into the ocean, which eventually begins to break into smaller and smaller pieces, into what we know as micro–plastics. These tiny, colourful pieces of plastic are accidentally ingested by fish, corals, whales, turtles, seals and even seabirds, and they also end up in our bellies through the seafood that we eat. This causes disease, toxicity, stunted growth, diminished appetites, and even death for many of these creatures. Something I like to do every time I go to the beach is ‘Take 3 for the Sea‘ and pick up at least 3 pieces of rubbish, and reduce my use of plastics wherever I can.
Tell us some of your favourite experiences being a marine biologist?
Some of my most treasured memories have been working in the ocean, and it never fails to amaze me with its incredible diversity of animals and ecosystems. I‘ve been lucky enough to swim with dolphins, dive with sharks, snorkel with humpback whales and dance with manta rays, but my favourite part is always diving along a healthy coral reef and hearing all the clicks and clacks of a busy little underwater city.
Do you have a favourite sea creature?
It‘s hard to play favourites but I once did a school project on the Blacktip Reef shark and I still get super excited every time I see one. They‘re very shy but so beautiful if you‘re lucky enough to see one up close!
If there was one change people could easily make in their lives that would help the marine ecosystem, what would it be?
On a larger scale, I would say be super picky and do your research regarding sustainable seafood species. If we all consumed seafood more mindfully, there would be a huge pressure off our oceans, which gives it a fighting chance at everything else it currently faces. On a local scale, choose more eco–friendly and reef–safe products, starting with sunscreen!