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Utilize the Best Apps to Help Protect the Ocean

Pollutants threaten ocean life and we are impacted by it

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Some of the most important marine fisheries have been heavily negatively affected by human activities, and there's big concern of trash getting into waterways.
- Dr. Bretton W. Kent, principal lecturer on ocean biology
at the University of Maryland

Having miraculously survived pineoblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer with a 5% survival rate, Izabella Voelker has a special place in her heart for the endangered species that call the ocean home.

The 16-year-old high school junior had two life-changing encounters with orca whales and sea lions while undergoing cancer treatments, expeditions that have given the now-aspiring Marine biologist a newfound appreciation for the efforts needed to safe-keep oceans for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

"I love the ocean and I love the animals in the ocean," she said. "Spreading the love and introducing people to the animals - and helping people fall in love with the animals - is a big way to help them understand why it (ocean conservation) is so important.

"Everything in the ocean is alive: the corral, the mammals, the fish, even sand dollars at one point were alive. Shells are often homes for living creatures. So there's a lot for people to think about, and understanding the animals in the ocean helps people understand why they need to protect the ocean."

Pollutants Make This a Big Challenge

Purging the ocean of contaminants poses an ongoing challenge to all who would like to see it preserved for future generations. Pollutants are widespread, with numerous sources contributing to the ongoing challenges that continue to threaten the lives of those animals and humans that frequent the waters for recreation, livelihood, and their very existence.

In fact, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identifies agricultural practices, coastal tourism, port, and harbor developments, damming of rivers, and mining and manufacturing among the most serious threats to marine habitats today. 

Furthermore, land-based sources, including agricultural run-off and the discharge of nutrients, pesticides, untreated sewage, and plastics account for approximately 80% of marine pollution globally. Plastic alone is responsible for killing more than 1 million seabirds each year, along with 100,000 marine mammals.

Where Apps Come Into Play

Apps like Clean Swell, Project AWARE, and Seafood Watch help connect users to information and each other as they endeavor to clean up that which threatens all who come in contact with infected bodies of ocean water worldwide.

Among Voelker's favorite apps are Clean Swell, which links users to clean-up projects in their area, and Seafood Watch, which identifies which species of fish are sustainable and those whose extinction threatens the food supply of other species in the ocean.

"Seafood Watch lets you know which fish are good to eat and sustainable and those that are not in abundant amounts that are going to harm the environment because their absence kills other ocean life," she said. "Certain species, because of human impact, have already passed away. For example, there are only 73 southern orca whale residents today because of overfishing of Chinook salmon, which is their primary diet."

What We Throw Away Makes a Difference

For those not living along the coast, Voelker said usage of biodegradable products can help reduce the footprint that threatens to stamp out ocean life across the planet. 

"Most products we use and throw away eventually make it into the ocean because there are a lot of landfills on coastal regions," she said. "Using products that don't take forever to break down can help keep the ocean and animals in the ocean safe. Reducing certain materials is a pretty big thing we can all do."

There Are Good Signs to be Found

Dr. Bretton W. Kent, principal lecturer on ocean biology at the University of Maryland, said pesticide runoff from home lawns has long threatened ocean creatures residing in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Maryland. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of those states that share the bay, things are beginning to improve for those fishermen and sea creatures that rely so heavily on the waters for sustenance.

"People on the coast are now being very careful about the use of pesticides," he said. "Some of the most important marine fisheries have been heavily negatively affected by human activities, and there's big concern of trash getting into waterways. But conservationist efforts and farmers using practices that cut down on pollution are showing promise, and that's a good sign."

The battle is far from over, however.

"Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest bays on the east coast, with draining to the bay from Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia," Kent said. "That huge area is very sensitive to even small changes. Coastal resources are in a very fragile state right now, and it takes very little to push them over the edge."

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