In the Oscar winning 2009 documentary film, The Cove, millions of people around the world were made aware of several major dilemmas facing the Earth’s oceans. In the same year, these messages were reinforced by another documentary, The End of the Line. The most pertinent issues highlighted were the industrial pollution of the seas, the potential collapse of ecosystems due to overfishing, the resulting consequences of this collapse, and the need for individuals to take action in order to safeguard the planet. The need to take action immediately is a brutal realisation, but reality it most certainly is. Recent scientific estimates predict, at current fishing rates, the complete collapse of fish populations by 2048.
These films are more than mere entertainment – they are vital messages to the world. And the message is clear; global warming and overfishing must be restricted or the consequences will strike within many of our lifetimes. Worse still, future generations may be faced with a world without oceanic life. The world’s seas, free of the balancing influence of biodiversity, would lose photosynthesising organisms and turn from CO2 consumers into a major source of CO2 production. It’s time for humanity to face up to its actions and take steps to protect life on Earth – you are an integral part in this process, so read the latest scientific facts and take steps to change the world today.
Fish remain one of the major sources of food for dozens of nations across the globe, whilst sushi restaurants have become a fashionable craze outside of Japan. Aside from this source of sustenance, millions of people’s livelihoods depend on the oceans. Due to this, the seas have long been considered by many as an inexhaustible supply of food – the alternate reality just wasn’t worth considering. However, in 2008, British journalist Charles Clover wrote The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat, with the film adaptation following in 2009 (former Cheers star Ted Danson narrates). The Cove followed in the same year, its environmental impact being spearheaded by famous activist Ric O’Barry. Finally, after decades of chronic overfishing, the world has been pushed into action.
Global warming has, of course, been at the forefront of public concern circa 2006, but the oceans have been largely ignored until now. One of the key elements of this success came from The Cove’s analysis of the devastating effects of mercury poisoning (an illness which slipped from public concern during the late 1970s) brought about by the pollution of the oceans. Since the Industrial Revolution, the burning of fossil fuels has led to a 1-3 percent rise in mercury levels in the environment with each passing year. Humans have been taking this pollution in for many decades, and the extent of the problem will continue to expand. With this is mind, it’s worth considering the warnings from history, those left by previous devastating industrial disasters.
Mercury’s impact on the oceans and human health
Mercury is the most toxic non-radioactive element on Earth, and it enters water in the form of methylmercury following the burning of fossil fuels. Contamination in fish begins at the lowest stage of the food chain in seawater and algae. Subsequently, krill and shellfish accumulate mercury through “biomagnification” – they essentially absorb the pollution into their bodies. As nature takes its course, fish and shellfish amass methylmercury in their bodies, and as species higher up the food chain consume greater amounts of contaminated fish, their bodies become increasingly polluted. This is, of course, also the case for any birds or land animals preying on the fish from the Earth’s seas.
Methylmercury is highly toxic for humans and it is, consequently, important to steer clear of certain species of fish entirely; blue fin tuna, lake trout, marlin, shark, pike, dolphin, swordfish, and tilefish should be removed from your diet. The reasons for this can be observed in a tragic incident from history, when the most notable incident of mercury poisoning occurred during the mid-1950s. Several disturbing scenes from The Cove leave an indelible impression. The outbreak occurred in 1950s Japan following illegal industrial dumping of mercury in a bay at Minamata. Those unfortunate enough to consume fish contaminated with the mercury began to show signs of poisoning, with severe neurological disruption following; violent shaking, memory loss, and death being common outcomes. Things got worse as pregnant women began to give birth to severely disabled children. The issue was covered up for 12 years, although the area was eventually cleared of all contamination.
Over half a century later, the disaster at Minamata remains one of history’s worst industrial disasters, but it is largely forgotten. And yet now, as overfishing decimates the oceans around the world, this dilemma returns to haunt us. The rise of mercury in the fish we eat has been noted in the scientific community, with many studies highlighting the alarming rise of mecury contamination. In The Cove, Tetsua Endo, Ph.D. of Health Science University in Hokkaido, performed a study on a arbitrary piece of dolphin meat. In Japan, the official recommended level of mercury in seafood is 0.4 ppm (parts per million). The results of Dr. Endo’s test showed the level of mercury to be 2,000 ppm – which is extremely toxic, in other words. Disturbingly, this had been purchased from a fish store in Taiji, Japan, highlighting the need for considered purchasing when it comes to fish. This also ties in with the need to purchase sustainable fish in order to prevent the collapse of the ocean’s ecosystems, as was made clear by End of the Line. This is where the individual comes in, and becoming an activist is a mere click away in the internet age.
Anyone can get involved in the cause to save the planet’s oceans from the inevitable devastation of overfishing and pollution. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation offers a lot of scientific analysis on these issues. There is the official The Cove website which currently runs a “Hard Truths of Mercury Poisoning” video for further information, as well as a free Japanese-dubbed version of the documentary.
Meanwhile, the End of the Line website encourages you to eat sustainable fish in order to protect the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. You can also find, on these sites, information on healthier fish to eat. Fish lower down the food chain are known to be much lower in mercury levels; shellfish (such as crab, oysters, and prawns), salmon, and anchovies are all deemed safe to eat. The protein and Omega 3 fats these fish provide can help boost your health, but you must remember to purchase responsibly. Watching the two revered documentaries is a sound place to begin, and look for “Sustainable Fishing” logos on the fish you purchase.
Alex Morris is a writer for CartridgeSave.co.uk in Manchester, England, and a passionate environmentalist. As you’d expect, our printer supplies are fully recyclable, and we promote recycling and energy saving throughout our business endeavours.