June 07, 2018

The Power of the Blue Economy to Address Marine Pollution

Businesses and organizations are combating marine debris through innovative policies and partnerships to improve transparency and accountability in the seafood and business product and packaging supply chains. On June 7th, the Oceans Caucus Foundation and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation co-hosted an expert panel to discuss how their respective industries and organizations are working to protect our oceans.

This panel of experts consisted of Coca-Cola Government Relations Director Missy Owens, Oceans Plastics Lab scientist Dr. Julia Schnetzer, Seafood Harvesters of America President Chris Brown, and Gorton’s Seafood Director of Purchasing Greg Jeffers.

“The health of our oceans is the health of our planet,” Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici stated at the beginning of the briefing, adding that a healthy ocean is not only fundamental to a prosperous economy but is also necessary in order to protect invaluable marine ecosystems. Plastic, including micro-plastic, has polluted every inch of the ocean, Dr. Schnetzer said, and threatens to dismantle the ocean’s food chain and thus impact aquatic food sources and the economy at large, the climate, and air quality. Dr. Schnetzer and her colleagues at the Oceans Plastic Lab are travelling the world to educate the public about how science is currently working to invent new mechanisms aimed at solving the ocean’s plastic issue.

To address the plastics problem, the Coca-Cola Company is fostering “multi-disciplinary partnerships with various levels of government and organizations” to help achieve the company’s sustainability initiatives. Coke’s “World Without Waste” initiative, as Ms. Owens detailed, is a company goal to sell 100% recyclable product packaging, generate bottles comprised of 50% PET materials, and recycle one bottle for each bottle sold by 2030. The company has already become 100% water neutral, returning an equivalent amount of water into the environment as the amount used to power production.

Another business taking steps to protect the health of our oceans is Gorton’s Seafood. According to Purchasing Director Greg Jeffers, Gorton’s has partnered with the New England Aquarium’s scientist community to work on “science-based fishing management” and move toward more sustainable fishing standards monitored by third-party certifiers. Mr. Jeffers spoke about traceability and sustainability of seafood products, where technology plays an important role. He emphasized the need for increased education about and awareness of ocean pollution, as well as better science so that plastic alternatives can be constructed and consumers can access information about where their fish products come from and when they were caught.

One of those doing the catching is Chris Brown, a Rhode Island fisherman who recognizes that overfishing is destroying economic communities due to less fish and lower quality fish product. As President of the Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization that represents U.S. fishermen, Brown argues that there “are zero upsides to not being environmentally aware.” Not only should we take care of our precious natural resources, he says, but improved fishing will also result in better businesses and lower product prices. An unhealthy ocean equates to bad business and the slow elimination of important food sources on which millions of people depend.

Protecting the ocean is not only a domestic issue: it is a global issue that impacts inland and coastal communities alike. All panelists agreed that increased education, science, and local and federal government support are necessary for change to take place and that the ocean is our responsibility and it is up to us whether or not future generations will have an ocean to depend on and care for.

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