Surfers Against Sewage mobilizes supporters, raises vital funds for conservation, organizes rallies, and lobbies decision makers.
The SAS annual Citizen Science Brand Audit report documents the staggering amount of branded plastic pollution found on UK beaches and highlights the urgent need for a shift to refill and reuse packaging systems.
Citizen scientists can become a vital piece of armor in the fight against ocean pollution and, in turn, the implementation of SDG 14.
By Hugo Tagholm, CEO, Surfers Against Sewage
This week delegates gathered at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, a key milestone in the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. As well as offering the gathered government representatives, scientists, environmentalists, and NGOs an opportunity to share their profound understanding of the ocean and the challenges it faces, the event also provided a renewed call to action on the need for radical collaboration in pursuit of SDG 14 (life below water).
The facts that underpin the targets of SDG 14 never fail to astonish me. Three-quarters of our planet’s surface is covered by water. With its abundance of life, the ocean feeds us. It is home to nearly 200,000 identified species, but it is believed that the abyssal zone alone holds up to a million species scientists have yet to document. Three billion people globally rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. Through its ability to absorb heat, the ocean plays a critical role in counterbalancing the effects of climate change. The ocean is, in short, a vital resource for all life on earth. Described both as “the lungs of the earth” and “the world’s biggest carbon sink” the ocean is our greatest ally against climate change. And yet, it is also in crisis.
On World Ocean Day on 8 June, the UN Secretary-General reinforced the destructive nature of human activity on ocean resources and biodiversity. He emphasized the global challenge of pollution which is increasing year on year, stating that plastic waste is one of the biggest problems that we need to tackle.
In May, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report, which warned that the world is producing twice as much plastic as two decades ago. Global plastic waste figures are on track to triple by 2060. Other pollutants are also entering the ocean at increasing rates – from untreated waste and nutrient runoff to discarded fishing gear. Never before has action on ocean protection been so essential. Never before has time felt so short.
What, then, can science do to help us tackle the titanic troubles of our ocean? And what can a UK-based marine conservation charity bring to the table?
The power of the citizen in tackling pollution
It is widely acknowledged that to achieve SDG 14, we must improve the integration of science in marine policy. Ocean science will help us grasp the complexity of ocean deterioration. It will also help us find the solutions.
And yet, I’ve been keen to point out whilst at this week’s UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon that not everyone comes armed with a PhD and a well-honed ability to decipher data. Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), the charity that I’m CEO of, is a community of millions of people united by a shared love of the ocean. Motivated by this passion, we work to do all we can to protect the ocean and to persuade governments and local authorities to make tangible change.
Working collaboratively, SAS does what many charities do well: mobilize supporters, raise vital funds for conservation, organize rallies, and lobby decision makers. The need for hard evidence of ocean pollution has, over the last 15 years, also led us to create a powerful national network of citizen scientists who can document the environmental degradation taking place in front of our very eyes. We are the on-the-ground scientists, the keen observers. Our role is to watch, monitor and document change and use these observations as evidence which can hold the polluters to account.
These observations have, over time, become regular reports. Our annual Citizen Science Brand Audit report documents the staggering amount of branded plastic pollution found on UK beaches, highlighting the urgent need for a shift to refill and reuse packaging systems, and evidencing our call for an all-in Deposit Return Scheme in the UK.
Collective observations and collaborative action underpin the SAS citizen science reports. These help push forwards legislative change – a powerful example of the impact that grassroots activism can have. During the last few days at the UN Ocean Conference, I’ve stood alongside the data analysts and policymakers, emphasizing how citizen-led collection of evidence on pollution and industrial negligence can play a powerful role in turning the tide on ocean pollution – not only calling out the polluters but building the awareness and pressure required to drive systemic change.
Demanding change from all angles
The unrelenting pollution of the ocean is a global issue and is deeply connected to the parallel planetary crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Science plays a crucial role in tackling these problems.
Ocean ambassadors around the globe have an army of scientists at their disposal. This army – made up of citizens – are united by a shared love of the ocean. And they can play a crucial role in protecting it. Citizen scientists can become a vital piece of armor in the fight against ocean pollution and, in turn, the implementation of SDG 14. Every step that we can make towards protecting, improving, and restoring the health of the ocean is a step in the right direction. We have not got a moment to lose.