Sustainable Waves: The Impact of World Oceans Day Initiatives

Oceans, which constitute the largest water bodies on Earth, covering nearly 70% of its surface, play a crucial role in sustaining life. To highlight the importance of healthy oceans, marine ecosystems, and the broader implications for climate change, June 8th has been officially designated as World Oceans Day by the United Nations, with this year's theme being 'Awaken New Depths'. According to a UN report, the ocean is responsible for producing at least 50% of the planet's oxygen, essential for all living organisms. Recent years have seen significant warming of the oceans due to global warming, with temperatures reaching record highs. A BBC report further highlights that the seas are now warmer than at any other time in human history.

Another important issue to note is the devastating impact of human-made plastic pollution on marine life and aquatic ecosystems. Oceans worldwide are fighting with the harmful effects of plastics, which jeopardise marine animals and their habitats. Single-use plastics, which include items like plastic bottles, food packets, straws, and especially carry bags, are the most commonly found types of waste, either in landfills or in the oceans, harming both and affecting the planet. According to a 2015 National Geographic article, there are approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean and counting. Experts warn that by 2050, we may alarmingly find more plastic than fish in the oceans, and over 100,000 sea animals are killed by plastic each year. UNESCO reports that there are between 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean, which not only harm marine life but also enter the human food chain, posing further risks to health.

World Oceans Day is celebrated globally by climate change activists, advocates, environmental organisations, and by many nonprofits. These groups mark the occasion through various activities designed to raise awareness about the importance of healthy oceans. Common celebratory actions include speaker events or conferences that discuss ocean conservation and hands-on initiatives like ocean clean-ups. Some brands contribute by upcycling and reusing plastic waste, aiming to reduce the burden of plastics in the oceans. Each year, these events play a significant role in combating ocean plastic pollution. Below, we highlight some of the events that are making a positive impact in this ongoing fight.

THE OCEAN CLEANUP

The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit environmental organisation based in the Netherlands that focuses on extracting plastic pollution from oceans and rivers for a healthier ecosystem. Apart from raising awareness on World Oceans Day, throughout the year, they organise clean-up events to increase and spread awareness about ocean conservation. In 2023, this organisation successfully collected 25,000 pounds of trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, removing marine debris from the Pacific Ocean. Research conducted by The Ocean Cleanup indicates that approximately 100 million kilograms of plastic are floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which consists of about 1.8 trillion pieces larger than 0.5 mm. This amount almost equals to around 160 pieces of debris for every person living on the planet. With continuous ocean clean-up efforts, this nonprofit aims to clear 90 percent of ocean plastic in the coming decades.

(Image credit: The Ocean Clean Up, Extraction of Plastic in the Pacific Ocean)

PARLEY FOR THE OCEANS 

Parley for the Oceans is a global environmental organisation that brings together creative minds to address the issue of ocean pollution and collaborates on projects that are aimed at preventing its destruction. For World Oceans Day in 2020, Parley partnered with the World Bank to organise ocean clean-ups in South Asia, targeting plastic pollution. The plastics collected during these events were upcycled into Parley Ocean Plastic Yarn, which is used by brands such as Iris Van Herpen and Adidas. The organisation reports that South Asia alone generates approximately 334 million tons of massive 'mismanaged' waste annually, with about three-fourths of it, mainly plastic, ending up in the oceans. In 2022, Parley garnered assistance from more than 700,000 volunteers worldwide and passionately managed to organise over 21,000 cleanup initiatives and informative educational events. These efforts successfully resulted in removal of 1.1 million kg of plastic from the oceans. In an article in Vogue, Cyrill Gutsch, the founder of Parley for the Oceans, draws attention to and highlights that beyond single-use plastics, the toxic plastic microfibers which shed from clothing also pose severe threats to marine environments. He advocates for sustainable clothing practices and calls for the fashion industry to adopt more sustainable practices to mark their eco-friendly impact on the oceans and landfills.

(Image credit: Parley For The Oceans Clean-Up)

UNESCO X PRADA 

In 2023, the luxurious Italian fashion house Prada collaborated with UNESCO to celebrate World Oceans Day by focusing on ocean literacy through various initiatives. This collaboration is part of their ongoing educational program, SEA BEYOND, which has been in partnership with UNESCO since 2019. The program was introduced to educate Prada employees and extend learning to schools and events to raise awareness about ocean health, ocean literacy, and sustainable living practices. In its first edition in 2020, SEA BEYOND launched a digital event that encouraged school students to engage in ocean preservation activities. This initiative saw participation from schools worldwide, with an education module tailored to for an understanding of oceanic and environmental well-being among young students. In 2023, the program expanded its reach by hosting an ocean and climate change event in China, specifically designed to educate and inspire young minds about the serious issues facing our oceans.

(Image credit: UNESCO x Prada - Sea Beyond)

OCEAN SOLE ORGANISATION

Ocean Sole, a registered nonprofit in Kenya, is dedicated to cleaning polluted beaches and providing employment opportunities for artisans in vulnerable communities. They collect discarded flip-flops from coastlines and repurpose them into unique, upcycled art pieces. Ocean Sole raises awareness about ocean pollution and finds upcycling as an innovative solution to combat marine debris. For the World Oceans Day in 2023, Ocean Sole partnered with charity organisations and Red Cross clubs to conduct a beach cleaning exercise in Kenya. During this event, volunteers collected around 491.05 kg (1,082 lbs) of trash. Through these initiatives, Ocean Sole recommends individuals to use their voices and spread awareness about the well-being of the oceans and the planet.

(Image credit: The Ocean Sole Organisation Beach Clean-up)

MARINE LITTER SNEAKERS

Eugène Riconneaus, a French designer, paid tribute to World Oceans Day in 2022 by creating upcycled sneakers made from marine litter and seafood waste. His ER Soulier sneakers are crafted from a mix of discarded fishing nets, scraps, green algae, and seafood waste, all collected from the oceans. These sustainable sneakers are handmade in Portugal. The initiative was primarily focused at cleaning up the French coasts and repurposing the collected waste by upcycling it into eco-friendly sneakers. This project's strategy helps reduce marine pollution and extends the life of these materials by repurposing them into fashionable and sustainable footwear.

(Image credit: Eugène Riconneaus - ER Soulier Sneakers)

BUOY UPCYCLED MARINE WASTE

Buøy, based in Japan, works on reducing ocean plastic waste and supporting marine life by crafting upcycled products from discarded materials found on shores. Collaborating with volunteer organisations, they frequently organise events to collect plastic debris from the oceans in Japan. These materials are then upcycled into creatively designed trays, holders, and plates, featuring a variety of colours and attractive shapes. They also produce small functional holders suitable for stationery. All of Buøy products are made from upcycled marine waste materials to help save the oceans, and cleans up the marine environment providing a second life for materials that would contribute to ocean pollution.

(Image credit: Buøy Upcycled Marine Litter Collection)

PLASTIC BAGS DIY

One of the most commonly disposed of items in oceans is the single-use plastic bag. Avoiding plastic bags and opting for cloth bags can provide a sustainable alternative. The Marine Science Institute has suggested a creative DIY idea for upcycling: making bracelets from plastic bags, named 'ocean friendship bracelets'. The image below explains how the plastic bag is cut in strips and braided into a long strand, then the ends are joined to form a circular bracelet shape and knotted. Beads can also be added for accent, creating a beautiful bracelet. This simple upcycling DIY method repurposes the plastic bags found in our oceans, raising awareness about the possibilities of upcycling and the impact of plastic waste on marine environments.

(Image credit: The Marine Science Institute)

It is our collective responsibility as individuals to be mindful of our surroundings and keep our planet free from litter. Taking mindful steps to ensure our environments, minimise lanfills, keeping oceans to remain litter-free, and adopting sustainable practices is utmost essential for a better future. Choosing sustainable alternatives instead of plastics can contribute to saving our oceans and marine life, creating a healthier ecosystem. Brands and organisations play an important part in curbing waste on a larger scale. Together, through these concerted efforts, we can make a notable impact on our interconnected world, promoting a more sustainable and thriving planet.


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