The increasingly dire reports on the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are horrifying to those of us who care about marine life and healthy seas. Meanwhile, another petroleum product, plastic, gets fewer headlines but is slowly and insidiously polluting our beaches and oceans, spoiling habitats and harming sea turtles and other marine life all over the world.

At best, discarded plastic on beaches and at sea is an eyesore; at worst, it can be deadly to marine creatures, and works its way up the food chain (and ultimately to us). And dumping at sea is not the main culprit: some 80 percent of plastics found at sea were discarded on land. 

Nature lovers and adventure travelers regularly report their shock at the sight of piles and piles of discarded plastic bottles and other petroleum-based detritus in the most remote, otherwise pristine beaches and coasts on earth, carried there by wind and ocean currents. A bottle cap that fell out of a garbage truck in San Diego can end up on a tiny, uninhabited island in the Pacific in the decayed carcass of a baby albatross, which died because its mother innocently fed it too much plastic it found floating in the water.

We have ALL contributed to this overwhelming problem, and can ALL be part of the solution. What can you do? I’m saying no to more and more single-use plastic items. I don’t leave the house without my own shopping bag, food takeaway containers and utensils (it look me a while to get in the habit, but I got there). I buy bulk from grocers where available, bringing my own containers (I haven’t bought a new shampoo bottle for years).  

Think about each single-use item you buy: is there a reusable alternative? Do I really need this? Stand up to the social pressure to always take the most ‘convenient’ option. Tell people why you are doing it. Be part of the ever-growing movement that is rejecting single-use plastics. And if we reduce our use of all petroleum products, hopefully the demand for drilling will be reduced as well.  

Our daily actions can have unimaginable consequences in places we’ve never even heard of, and what seems convenient to us can be far from convenient to many of the marine creatures we share the planet with. We can all start being part of the solution.